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Feature: Prisons Under Pressure -- Corrections Budgets in the Age of Austerity
Arizona State Prison Complex at Douglas
If there are any silver linings in the current economic, fiscal, and budgetary disaster that afflicts the US, one of them could be that the budget crunch at statehouses around the country means that even formerly sacrosanct programs are on the chopping block. With drug offenders filling approximately 20-25% of prison cells in any given state, prison budgets are now under intense scrutiny, creating opportunities to advance sentencing, prison, and drug law reform in one fell swoop.

Nationwide, corrections spending ranks fourth in eating up state budget dollars, trailing only health care, education, and transportation. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, five states -- Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Oregon and Vermont -- spend more on prisons they than do on schools.

The US currently spends about $68 billion a year on corrections, mostly at the state level. Even at a time when people are talking about trillion dollar bail-outs, that's a lot of money. And with states from California to the Carolinas facing severe budget squeezes, even "law and order" legislators and executive branch officials are eyeing their expensive state prison systems in an increasingly desperate search to cut costs.

"If you look at the amount of money spent on corrections in the states, it's an enormous amount," said Lawanda Johnson of the Justice Policy Institute. "If they could reduce prison spending, that would definitely have an impact on their state budgets. Now, a few states are starting to look at their jail and prison populations," she said.

Among them:

Alabama: The state Department of Corrections is facing a 20% budget cut in 2009. Alabama Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen is telling legislators he will try to "dampen down" the number of new inmates by working on sentencing reform, community corrections, new pardon and parole rules, and a supervised reentry program. The number of Alabama prisoners jumped from nearly 28,000 in March 2006 to more than 30,000 in December 2008, an increase Allen said was caused in part because the legislature had created 67 new felony crimes since 2001.

California: With a prison population of more than 170,000 and the state facing budget deficits of gargantuan proportions, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has suggested eliminating parole time for all non-serious, nonviolent, and non-sex offenders. His plan would cut the parole population by 65,000 people, more than half the 123,000 currently on parole. It would also reduce by tens of thousands the number of people behind bars in the Golden State by increasing good-time credits for inmates who obey the rules and complete rehabilitation. That move could cut the prison population by 15,000 by June 2010. Schwarzenegger's proposal is opposed by -- you guessed it -- the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, for which mass imprisonment is a job security issue.

Colorado: Gov. Bill Ritter (D) has proposed extensive cuts in the state corrections system, including closing two state prisons, delay the construction or expansion of two other prisons, and selling a department-owned 1,000-acre ranch. Those cuts would eliminate at least 71 jobs and save $13.6 million in the coming fiscal year.

Kentucky: Gov. Steve Beshear (D) and state legislators last year granted early release to some 1,800 prisoners, including some violent offenders, in a bid to take a bite out of the state's $1 billion budget deficit. Although Beshear and the legislature have protected the Corrections Department from budget cuts afflicting nearly all other state agencies and programs, the state's dire financial straits are making passage of a treatment-not-jail bill for drug offenders more likely this year. That could save the state $1.47 million.

Michigan: Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) will propose keeping prison spending near the $2 billion mark in 2010, 57% higher than a decade ago, but legislators are about to chew on proposals for reform from the Council of State Governments Justice Center to cut the number of state prison inmates by 5,000. That would save about $262 million by 2015, far short of the $500 million annual savings now being called for by the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, among others. The Justice Center proposals include cutting the average time above the minimum sentences inmates serve from 27% to 20%. Some 12,000 inmates have already served more than their minimum sentences. Deputy Corrections Director Dennis Schrantz said those proposals were only the beginning, noting that the state had closed nine prisons since 2003 and will close three more this year.

Mississippi: Faced with an emergency $6.5 million (2%) budget cut for the current fiscal year, the state Department of Corrections is moving to reduce the number of inmates in county and regional jails and private prisons. The state pays counties $20 per inmate per day to house them and pays private prison companies at least $31.70 per inmate per day. The state will remove 300 inmates from county jails and 50 from private prisons. Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps also has sent a list of 2,900 nonviolent inmates to the parole board for possible early release. The department may also grant early release to prisoners with severe medical problems, allowing the state to cut costs by not having to provide medical care for them.

New York: With a $15 billion budget deficit and a Department of Correctional Services eating up $2.5 billion a year -- more than any other state agency -- Gov. David Paterson (D) is seeking to release 1,600 offenders early and reform or repeal the state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws. The prison budget has continued to increase despite a whopping 35% drop in crime in the last decade and a prison population at the lowest levels since the 1980s. Now Correctional Services Director Brian Fischer wants to close prison camps and correctional annexes sitting empty with a thousand beds, saving the state $100 million and cutting the 31,000 corrections department employees by about 1,400 through attrition. It's a start.

South Carolina: After running in the red for the last two years, the state's prison director, Jon Ozmint, told legislators he needed $36 million for the current fiscal year, leaving the solons with three choices: cut spending for health, education, or other services; finance corrections through the reserve, or close prisons. Legislators last year rejected Ozmint's suggestion that they save money by releasing prisoners early and closing prisons. This year, Ozmint is suggesting that the state reduce the requirement that serious felons serve 85% of their sentence to 70%. The prison crisis in South Carolina has prompted the normally pro-prison Charleston Post & Courier to call for "alternative sentencing that could keep nonviolent offenders out of prison" and "revising mandatory minimum sentences."

Virginia: Telling legislators "we want to lock up people we're afraid of and not ones we're mad at," Virginia corrections director Gene Johnson said this week Gov. Tim Kaine (D) wants to release some nonviolent offenders 90 days early to save the state $5 million a year. Nearly 1,200 inmates would qualify for early release, he said. Virginia has already closed five prisons employing 702 people, and may resort to limited lay-offs, Johnson told legislators.

This is by no means a list of all the states grappling with prison spending in the current crisis. Correctional costs are on the agenda at statehouses across the country, but as the list above suggests, the economic squeeze is providing openings for reform.

"In the handful of states that have already opened legislative sessions this year, the corrections budget is frequently raised in budget conversations," said Ryan King, an analyst for The Sentencing Project. "A number of governors have raised the issue. It will definitely be on the table. With the recession really taking hold this year, it will be a major, major issue," he said.

"With each passing year, there is a little greater acknowledgement that we are in a position where states are spending far too much money to incarcerate and can't build their way out of it, but the prison population is still increasing each year," said King. "If we want to talk about a sustainable reduction in the prison population, we need to revisit who is going and for how long, as well as a critical evaluation of sentencing laws, repealing mandatory minimums, and expanding parole eligibility. Those are the big steps that need to be taken."

There is still resistance to reform, King said, but things are changing. "There is now much broader consideration of amending parole and probation policies, along with diversion of drug offenders," he said. "Those are probably the two most widely achieved reforms in the last few years. We will probably see more of that, but if we're going to move this from diverting a few thousand people to really addressing the 1.5 million in prison, we are going to have to start asking whether people belong in prison for decades, whether life without parole is really necessary. The real engines of growth for the prison population are admissions and sentence lengths, and a lot of policymakers are still uncomfortable having that conversation."

After decades of seemingly endless sentence increases and prison-building, perhaps the wheel is beginning to turn. Politicians immune to "bleeding heart" pleas for humanity are not immune to pocket-book issues. But while change is starting to come, the US remains a long way from losing its crown as the world's leading jailer.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!
Brinna's picture

Senator Jim Webb has said he is taking on prison reform.

If Jim Webb has declared that he is willing to take on prison reform , we should all back him. And by 'we', I mean drug policy reform groups, cannabis legalization groups, medical cannabis advocates, physician and nursing advocates, and progressive social networks.

Prison stocks trade on Wall Street. More prisoners equals more profit. The DEA and local law enforcement build their budgets through seizure of money and property with little or no oversight. Remember Iran-Contra? It was all about doing an end run around the funding powers of Congress so their would be no Congressional oversight of specific military activities. The same thing is happening here.

It's about time that we join forces in this monumental task of wresting power away from the self-funding Prison Industry, DEA and LEOs.

Prison Reform

Yes, support Jim Webb to take on prison reform. Our prison system is totally dysfunctional and no one is rehabilitated. Our communities are not safer because of the ridiculous sentencing laws which have been passed. The prison for profit machine is growing and prospering at the expense of us taxpayers and the families with loved ones in prison, are suffering more than can be imagined. Give us sentencing reform, drug legalization reform and power over the self serving prison guard and peace officers unions. Above all give us polititians with spine and and the guts to do what is right for their constituents.

Prison Reform

It is time for the legislation, governors , congressmen and anyone with the power to change the laws to get the men and women that are of no threat to the public out of prison.It is no place for a lot of these people. When a crime occurs the lawyers should stop putting people in prison that they know nothing about. Not enought time is spent on finding the truth in a case. The court appointed attorneys are signing legal papers to get the case out of their way so they can move on to the next one.There are so many lives being affected by these mistakes.Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters are suffering.


Thank you I would love to see some one help with reform on prisons its been in the courts for years in calif there is a RALLY FEB 3 /09 AT SAN FRAN AT 900 AM


federal courthouse, 450 golden gate ave, be on time, then go up together to judge henderson's courtroom, 19th floor - this tues

Justify parole denials, over haul big business of prison

It is encouraging that Governor Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate parole for 65,000 non-violent ex-offenders.

Unfortunately, he denies many paroles that are recommended by parole boards. The parole boards themselves seldom recommend parole for more serious crimes regardless of the circumstances and rehabilation efforts by the ex-offender. The governor and the parole boards should have to justify all parole denials.

I hope those who are able attend the rally in San Francisco mentioned in earlier posts. "The families of people who have died in California's prisons, about 450 per year, invite everyone to attend the closing arguments of the Plata hearing and rally with them outside the Federal Courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, on February 4, 2009, [9 a.m]." (Dr. B. Cayenne Bird)

The support of Senator Jim Webb for prison reform is certainly appreciated.

Prison Reform

The closing arguments of the Plata hearing in San Francisco has been changed to Tuesday, February 3, 9:00 am at the Federal court house on 450 Golden Gate Ave.

More self serving whores... for prisons and for wars!

Job security and a paycheck will always trump reason and the rule of lawful laws in this christian 'the end justifies the means' at any cost society.

The illegal prohibition of some drugs has and always will be about 'authority'. It doesn't matter whether we are dictated to from the left or the right... if we defy their fucked up political logic we will be wronged in the name of righteousnous!

From that criminal asshole Nixon who ramped up the war because hippies hated vietnam and were disturbing his war to Reagan and the 'just say no' lunatics that nancy rallied behind her.

God help these law breaking idiots if I were king for a day... I'd have them all judged... and executed... before I slept again!

These are dangerous times for rational people everywhere... living in a religious culture that puts the 'strength of belief' above 'what you believe' is destined to be dysfunctional and dangerous!

Tell the truth about drugs and the bogus war on drugs

Hello, my name is Ken Larson and I am from Alamogordo N.M. I am also a recovering METH addict (I survived 18 years), a constituent and strong community advocate against drug policies that are not effective and never have been effective. I speak in schools, community forums and yell to tell the truth about drugs and alcohol. I am also in a DVD (Just for Teens gone here in New Mexico. Here are a few reasons to support House Bills 428 and 441:
Offenders need treatment.
•In 2002, about 87% of state prisoners needed substance abuse services.
•Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to grow up and struggle with their own
substance abuse issues and become incarcerated as adults for drug-related crimes.
•By incarcerating mothers struggling with substance abuse, New Mexico leaves behind
hundreds of children. For example, the 600 women incarcerated in the NM Women’s
Correctional Facility collectively leave behind 1800 dependent children under the age of 18.
This legislation will make our communities safer.
•The majority of people in New Mexico and nationally support a shift away from incarceration
and towards treatment for non-violent drug offenders.
•This bill proposes supervised probation and appropriate community-based treatment, instead of
incarceration, for first- and second-time non-violent drug possession offenders.
•Nonviolent drug offenders need help, not jail. Offering treatment instead of incarceration would
enhance public safety by reducing drug-related crime and preserving jail and prison space for
violent offenders.
•Individuals struggling from substance use, abuse or dependence would receive the appropriate
community-based treatment services they need and learn how to deal with their addictions.
We need to break the cycle of addiction.

•Rather than sending individuals to prison to learn more dangerous crimes and not receive the
appropriate treatment, this legislation will help get the root of the problem – substance use,
abuse, or dependence.
•Treatment instead of incarceration will help people who are caught up in the criminal justice
system because of their drug addiction and get them the appropriate treatment services.
•People who receive appropriate treatment services are more likely to become productive
members of their families and society instead of committing future crimes.
Treatment will not be more expensive.
•The cost of probation and treatment is much less than the cost of incarceration. It costs $30,000
to incarcerate someone for one year and approximately $5,000 a year to provide someone with
substance abuse treatment.
•For each person who receives treatment instead of incarceration, New Mexico could save
between $22,000 and $27,000 per year.
•A study by the RAND Corporation found that every additional dollar invested in substance
abuse treatment saves taxpayers $7.46 in societal costs (crime, violence, loss of productivity,
Where will people get treatment?
•The bill calls on the Department of Health to create a plan to fill gaps in the treatment system.
•A proposal to have Medicaid cover substance abuse treatment will increase capacity.
•The Governor has pledged to triple substance abuse treatment in New Mexico.

The truth about drugs a school program

TheTruthaboutDrugs and aSafetyZone By Ken Larson
The problems
Chief among the challenges adolescents face today are those related to alcohol and other drugs. Whether in a large urban high school or a rural elementary school, students’ lives are touched by tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use. When considering the one issue which accounts for the largest number of student problems, what would it be?
Created primarily through student feedback, combined with the evolving science and understanding of adolescent drug use, by doing needs assessment with administrators, teachers and students. We found agreement among all three groups; that there was a great need for drug and alcohol specific services and that those services were best offered in confidential group and individual settings.
The answer often comes back to alcohol and other drugs. Once you successfully target that issue, by association you get access to issues of school failure, pregnancy, violence, neglect, sexual abuse, school adjustment problems, depression, family and cultural issues, suicidality, etc.
As schools begin to acknowledge these realities and address this range of very real problems, students have a much better chance of successfully completing their high school careers and developing into independent, healthy adults. Often traditional programs are ineffective in addressing these issues, leading up to threats by the federal government to defund ALL school based prevention programs. What better way to implement a drug and alcohol education safety zone or drug awareness workshop, then buy people who are in recovery or who have had drug problems in the past. A safety zone would be an area where students could talk about drugs and alcohol or not. A safety zone would have people who have experienced drug/alcohol addiction, teenage pregnancy, deadbeat dads etc., and have moved on, changed their lives and want to help others.
Our guiding philosophy
Our philosophy is simple-we believe that by creating positive, mutually respectful relationships between students and practitioners we support the student’s ability to think critically, come to a greater understanding of the world and their place in it, internalize and ultimately act on that new information. This offers an organic, positive, and effective method of presenting any prevention/ intervention/ treatment information and strategy. Although we do this by providing the levels of service that best fit the school or site, we believe it is our process of implementing these various levels that makes our program unique and highly effective. In doing so we address drug related issues from an environmental perspective that includes all students, not just those identified as “at risk”, as well as faculty and administration in program design and implementation. Our beliefs and goals are as follows:
• We work to increase understanding of drugs and their effects, support responsible behavior, and reduce risk and harm.
• We identify all students as being at risk, as drug use is endemic in our culture and world.
• We respect the rights of all students to make choices regarding their lives and drug use.
• We believe that creating mutually respectful relationships is key to providing effective health education. This means we must respect, value and build upon the knowledge students already have.
• Drug use does not = drug problem. Drug use does = risk.
Risky behavior does not = problem.
• We believe all students need to explore drug-related issues. Some will use drugs and most students know someone who does.
• By creating an inclusive discussion we attempt to reinforce the similarities between all students.
• We are committed to providing complete information. We believe that the science of substance use, accurately reported, contains the most honest and effective prevention messages.
• We believe demonization and romanticization of the realities of drug use are equally dangerous.
• We believe in focusing on the nature of the relationship between the person and the drug or process.
• We believe youth must feel ownership of the discussions. If we are successful at creating open dialogue, students will ask for what they need.
Why are drugs a serious problem for today's youth?

One could write a book on this subject! To answer briefly is to oversimplify, but here goes.
First, drug use is not a serious problem for the great majority of young people in the USA. Perhaps half of older teens have tried an illicit drug, usually cannabis (marijuana), although a substantial majority has used alcohol. Among those who have tried either only a minority can be classified as "abusers" who experience problems (and/or cause problems for others) as a result of their use. Abusive drinking and using seldom stands alone, however. These youth usually have personal problems that predate their substance abuse, especially in their relationships with other people. Professionals that work with such youth report that their use often is an attempt to self-medicate. This group needs assistance rather than punishment.

Second, in most developed, Western society’s use of all classes of psychoactive drugs - alcohol, illegal drugs, and doctor-prescribed medications - is now common. Alcohol is intensively advertised and promoted. In the USA, so are prescription drugs for personal problems that once were lived with or dealt with by other means - anxiety, depression, even shyness. Many of these pharmaceutical drugs are advertised in television spots which adviser viewers to, "Ask your doctor about…" In this sense the behavior of young people mirrors the behavior of adults. Modern society seems to be drug-besotted! Nevertheless, most youthful drinkers and occasional users of some of the illegal drugs do so moderately and mainly as a recreational activity.
For more information please contact me at 575-442-5668 and thanks for your time.

Sound reasoning, at last!

Great post. I almost did not read it because it was so long! Glad I did though! The approach makes all the sense in the world, to me.

Abolish Private "for profit" Prisons

A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)


The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.
We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

Prior to the past month, and the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. Although, we remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
These new slave plantations are not the answer!

For more information please visit: or email: [email protected]
To sign the petition please visit:


William Thomas
National Community Outreach Facilitator
The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons
P.O. Box 156423
San Francisco, California 94115


You will never get it.

Prisons have Unions, they pay dues..

Unions have money..they hire terds to lobby the crooks you elect to office.

You get tons of laws to be locked up under...

Very least you get probation

Probation = list of excuses to put you in a vacant cage when another has been released from it.

They will close schools, parks, or ANYTHING before they close a jail. Then they will just hike your taxes as you are a stupid american who spends more time watching sports then caring about your government..


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