Will Broken State Budgets Mean Prison Reform?

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The United States has more people in prison than anyplace in the world. China's a distant second. After 20 years of tough-on-crime legislation, state prison budgets have increased by 303 percent, outgrowing everything else except Medicaid. Five states spend more on corrections than higher education. But the crackdown is costing more than states can afford. The total shortfall is $100 billion, and even some hard-core conservatives support reforms in sentencing, parole and probation.  Recent evidence shows that less expensive alternative punishments can work. But it's also true that imprisonment keeps criminals off the street. Will the financial crisis produce real reform or temporary savings that risk public safety?




Warren Olney