Budget Crunch: Tennessee Could Free 4,000 Prisoners in Bid to Cut Costs

Faced with a demand from Gov. Phil Bredesen (R) that all state agencies slash their budgets by 9%, the Tennessee Department of Corrections has responded with a plan to free somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 prisoners before they have finished serving their sentences. Those eligible for release under the plan would be nonviolent offenders, including drug offenders.

According to a TDC statistical report, drug offenders make up 19% of all Tennessee prisoners and serve an average of 10 years. The state prison population has increased by 80% since 1993, with some 28,000 people now behind bars in the Volunteer State. This year, the TDC's budget is $700 million.

The department would have no recourse but releasing prisoners early if it were to implement the cuts called for by Gov. Bredesen, said Corrections Commissioner George Little. The department has scaled back spending and has 400 positions it is leaving unfilled he said. "This isn't scare tactics," he said. "We've got to make ends meet... We would not propose these sorts of very serious and weighty options if we were not in such dire circumstances. We've, frankly, exhausted all of our options other than, frankly, prison population management," Little said.

Little's remarks came on the first day of state budget hearings and were intended to show how the TDC would proceed if Bredesen went ahead with his plan to slice 9% from all state department budgets. Bredesen has said that declining tax revenues and the end of the federal stimulus program may force the state to reduce spending by up to $1.5 billion by the end of the next fiscal year.

Before the hearing, Bredesen told reporters he would try to avoid letting prisoners out early. "I obviously am not interested in returning hardened criminals back to the streets," he said. "But I've told each of them (departments) to come in and tell me, if I say you've got to have 9%, tell me how you can get it... The best thing to do is to get all the possibilities on the table and sort through it."

To achieve a 9% reduction, the TDC could simply release about 3,300 prisoners held in local jails at a cost of $35 to $42 a day. Or it could close one or two of the state's 14 prisons, which would result in the release of about 4,000 prisoners.

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Jean Boyd's picture

Reduce by 20%

Why not release about 3,300 prisoners held in the local jails and shut down a few of Tennessee's prisons. After all, we are willing to cut costs to most other programs such as schools, health care and most humane institutions. All those cutback just so the U.S. can incarcerate more. Who would have thought that Tennessee would take a lead in such a venture. I never forget that it was the state of Georgia that led in ending the tragic era of alcohol prohibition.

why release drug offenders?

their the ones most likely to reoffend and end up straight back in.

Why release any?

Then we can continue to spend all the money to keep people in prison. All they need to do is make a new drug war tax and tax every taxpayer to subsidize it. Or better yet, get the government out of the prison business and let the private, for profit companies do it. They know how to turn a profit!

No matter who does it, though, it is going to take more money from all the taxpayers to support it. And, since so many of us are unemployed, right now, I guess it will just take a more money from those of you, who are employed. All they need, right now, is to give the government a bigger portion of their paycheck!

And, would I be right if I assumed that those taxpayers have open wallets and are willing to spend as much as the government wants to take?

Just maybe we need to start thinking about all of the things we are doing with the drug war that add more expense to our budget without decreasing drug use, one bit. Putting drug users in jail, in the first place, is part of the problem.

the author needs to do some

the author needs to do some fact checking. phil bredesen is a democrat, not a republican.

i agree with this

I agree with this yes there are some people whom have messed up and got caught tryin to make some money in this worthless economy but they are NON-VIOLENT offenders some people are losing the better part of their next 5 to 10 years when there is SEX OFFENDERS AND MURDERS getting less than TWO YEARS as a former corrections officer for over three years I have worked with a lot of non-violent drug offenders that know they have done wrong but have changed their life and just want to get back home to their familys

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