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Prisons Running Out of Dough and Turning Prisoners Out

Both sides of the pond are facing a prison problem. In the US, states facing budget crises are now looking at an alternative to raising taxes — let's just say it's a lock-checking idea. They're letting prisoners go free well before their sentences are completed.

In a time of tough budget decisions and rising prison costs, a choice has to be made. Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington located group that supports fairer sentencing, said: “Do you want to build prisons or build colleges? If you’re a governor, it’s kind of come to that choice right now.”

To see how some states are compromising on containment, and what's happening in the UK,


  • California, one of the hardest hit states has proposed letting go 22,000 nonviolent, nonsexual offenders nearly two years earlier than sentenced to save nearly $1.1 billion over two years.
  • Providence, RI approved a “good time” early-release program, which will place a greater number of inmates under post-prison supervision and is expected to save $8 billion over five years.
  • Mississippi has seen their inmate population double during the past twelve years. Governor Haley Barbour has signed into law two measures to ease the financial burden. One is to let nonviolent offenders go after serving 25% of their term and the other is to release terminally ill prisoners.
  • Kentucky is looking at a $900 million deficit over two years and has a plan to let non-violent, non-sexual offenders serve 180 days of their terms at home, which is expected to save $30 million.
  • It's not just the US experiencing a problem holding their prisoners. A new documentary paints a scary picture: to ease similar overcrowding, hundreds of dangerous offenders, including murderers, are being sent to low security open prisons and then — oops — escaping.

    Apparently since Labour came to power almost ten years ago, 14,000 criminals have “absconded” from open prisons, including many dangerous offenders, and some 149 offenders are still at large — including murderers, armed robbers and drug smugglers. The low-security prisons are aptly named — 130 murderers have escaped from them in the past 10 years - more than one a month.

    Considering that the US has 25 percent of the world's prison population is this a troubling trend? Do states have the right priorities choosing education over prison funding, or is the choice ridiculous? Are we skimping on funding public safety?


Join The Conversation
surplus surplus 5 years
sexual criminals should be castrated ,murderers should be killed and the rest in prison .that would solve half the problem
idawson idawson 9 years
so many problems with no cut and dry solutions ... getting more depressed by the minute ...
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Well observing the effect television has on the free law abiding citizens I would be inclined to agree, no TV. Music however is food for the soul and their souls are precisely what we're trying to save.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
Isn't classical music considered cruel and unhuman punishment?
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Well we agree that education should be a priority. I however do not think they should have any Television or music other then classical.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Creative is fine with me cine as long as rehabilitation and not agitation is the focus. I would much rather have some one leave prison having remorse for their actions and a new confidence fueled by education that they can start a new and make amends.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
hypno, have you heard about the Sheriff who makes the inmates wear pink while working, and has all these creative ways of treatment of inmates. None of the treatment was like caged animals, or cruel, just unusual. There were no luxuries, just work, school (if you wanted) eating and bed. From what I remember, the inmates hated his pink uniform and the interview I saw from an inmate said that he thought his treatment was genius, and a lot of inmates after their time at his prison vowed never to go back. There are creative ways to punish people.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Well I was at lunch, but thanks stiletta! YOu said everything perfectly!!!
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
If our society's primary focus on criminals was rehabilitation the thought of so many being released would be less of a weight on my mind. Many prisons are beginning to come around to the notion that treating these people like caged animals rather than human beings regardless of their criminal actions is more detrimental to society than bringing them out of the darkness and into the light.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
Damn you, human!
stiletta stiletta 9 years
That is because as a scavenging nocturnal creature, you are not comfortable with humans in any form. So why don't you just let us talk and decide what's best.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
Okay. You have a point about ... well, you're right. I think. But I am still not comfortable with private companies in bed with my government.
stiletta stiletta 9 years
Oh, my roots are showing! Thank you, Syako.
syako syako 9 years
stil you went silver! :woohoo:
stiletta stiletta 9 years
I don't know if I buy that raccoon. I don't think implementing any policy can make people criminals. So what if there's a three strikes program? It doesn't mean people are more likely to commit three crimes, does it? I think a large influx of immigration does have an effect on crime, no matter what inferences you may draw from that, it's a fact. As far back as the 19th Century there has been a corollary between immigration and crime. That's not to say immigrants are more prone to crime, it means that usually the arrive with few financial resources and few marketable skills and a percentage do turn to crime. The larger the influx of immigrants, the greater percentage of crime.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
Once the government started to privatize the prison systems, we coincidentally passed the three strikes program which boosted the inmate population by 12 percent which then prompted our state to ... wait for it ... build more prisons! Guess who that benefited? As for illegal immigrants or naturalized citizens, I don't really see what difference that makes to the percentage of per capita incarceration. Cine, no one was suggesting that business are all owned by the government. That's silly. But when private companies have a hand in legislating judicial policy, don't you think that's troubling?
MindayH MindayH 9 years
I just read The Lucifer Effect and more than ever would support letting nonviolent offenders leave prison early. There is a high correlation between low income areas, crime, and poor education - so giving the money to the education system does relate to the prison system.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Rac, pretty sure there are other factors then the prison became part of the private sector. You have got to be kidding if you think that Government is less corrupt then private sectors. You do realize they make a profit as well. Great point UnDave! Also, what was the population increase in California legal and illegal? I suppose we should just have everything owned by the government and have their noses in all business activity. That sounds like a great plan.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
I'm wondering Racci, what percent of the population increase is from out of state? I could see importing criminals to fill a prison to make it profitable. The prison system here is WI has seen a large increase over the last 20 years, and it is still state run.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
I agree with you Jennifer76, what good is a military full of lousy soldiers? If they see it as a punishment, they are definitely not going to do a good job, and honestly can't be fully trusted. And our law-abiding, hardworking, dedicated soldiers should not be put in the same category as criminals, nor should their safety be compromised by fellow soldiers that they cannot trust. In addition to that, our soldiers don't need to be saddled with the responsibility to watch over those who are being punished.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
Once we started to privatize the prisons in California we saw a huge jump in the prison rate. It was a real lesson in how the private sector can manipulate the judicial system to increase profits.
jennifer76 jennifer76 9 years
Joining the military and being forced to keep up to standards is one thing. Conscription of any and all is another. I agree with cine_lover. And Jillness, for once! :P It's so nice to find common ground now and then.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
I also think that joining the military should be an option for non-violent offenders and drug offenses. They can either serve a sentence or join the military.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Jill, I agree with you about non-violent offenders. I can tell you the streets of New York need some cleaning, cop cars need to be washed, there are so many jobs that criminals should be forced to do, which would benefit us all.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
I think we need to become more creative with our punishments. And I believe prisoners should get NO luxuries. The only entertainment they should receive are educational books. I know people who have been in Prison who say, "it isn't that bad". I had the same thought Meg. There are PLEANTY of other areas to cut before education in a State, so not sure why they focus just on Education. I am not surprised that we have so many people in Prison. Our citizens are not afraid of our punishments, because so many people don't want to be "cruel" to the prisoners. Maybe if we were not so soft, things would change. Citizen, I don't think you were clear enough that the 14,000 escaped prisoners were in the UK, not USA, unless I am completely confused.
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