Monday, April 04, 2011

State budget squeezes push some state lawmakers off tough-on-crime bandwagon

National incarceration costs have soared from "$12 billion in 1988 to more than $50 billion by 2008," The Associated Press reports, forcing many conservatives to reconsider their "tough-on-crime era that lead to stiffer sentences, overcrowded prisons and bloated corrections budgets."

"Conseratives have led the charge for more prisons and tougher sentencing, but now they realize they need to be just as tough on criminal justice spending," Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, told AP.

With Pew's help, some states have passed sentencing reform proposals and at least 22 are currently considering them, AP reports: "The proposals vary by state, but the hallmarks include ways to reduce sentences for lower-level offenders, direct some offenders to alternative sentencing programs, give judges more sentencing discretion and smooth the transition for released prisoners."

The proposed sentencing laws have law-and-order politicians and activists against tougher sentencing in tense agreement. "Everyone is looking at the bottom line — where can we cut?" Angelyn Frazer, state legislative affairs director for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told AP. "And if they can cut to make sure that some people can come home earlier and they don't have to serve these long, draconian sentences, that's great."

Others, like Jim Reams, a prosecutor in New Hampshire's Rockingham County, tend to disagree with the reform plans. "The budget crises are being converted into a public-safety crisis," Reams told AP. "Crime rates have fallen in nearly every state ... and we're probably going to see crime rates go back up again." (Read more)

In some states, such as Kentucky, local officials are concerned that reforms will reduce their jails' lucrative business of housing felons for the state and increase their local burden of housing misdemenants, Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service reports for The Morehead News.

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