Instituting Meaningful Corrections Reform

Eric Boehm has a good article on the opportunity to help balance the state budget by reforming prison and probation.

The inmate population in Pennsylvania’s prisons is growing at an unsustainable rate; the Rendell administration has proposed building four new prisons by 2013. Although Governor Rendell said, “The cost of housing prisoners in Pennsylvania continues to rise. We must reverse this trend, if for no other reason than the failure to do so threatens to overwhelm our ability to meet skyrocketing prison costs,” he included in his budget an increase of $137 million to correction funding.

Total corrections spending will reach $1.9 billion and account for 7 percent of total General Fund spending next year. There has been talk of limiting corrections costs, and the reducing the number of people incarcerated. Yet, in 2009 more than 29,000 probations were revoked, 13,000 of which were technical violations, not new crimes.

Other states, such as Arizona, have instituted meaningful reform that reduce recidivism rates and costs for taxpayers. Georgia and Delaware have addressed their problems of rising costs by instituting reforms such as administrative sanctions that have shown to reduce 70 percent or more in the average number of days that violators spent in local jails. Other reforms include drug courts, earned time credits and performance based probation funding.

Shipping prisoners to other states and increasing the number of prison guards are not meaningful reforms. Pennsylvania needs to address rising corrections costs at the root.