Curbing the prison boom

Huge cracks are forming in the wall of Americans' indifference to our world-leading levels of incarceration -- a disturbing total of 2.3 million behind bars. And for clear reasons.

First, the Great Recession. The states, which fund the bulk of our prisons, were hit by a breathtaking revenue decline of 30 percent in 2009 alone. It is becoming ever tougher for law-and-order politicos to justify ever-expanding prison rolls and costs.

About time, one could say. From 1985 to 2008, state prison populations virtually tripled, with states' overall corrections spending up 674 percent, according to an analysis by the Vera Institute of Justice.

But in 2009, for the first time in 40 years, our prisoner total actually declined. The combined budgets of 44 states surveyed for the current fiscal year show reduced overall corrections spending, with major focus on reductions in such states as Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana.

Many legislatures and governors have created commissions to reduce high recidivism rates (which repack prisons) and to discover more cost-effective ways to restrain crime (which now, in fact, is at its lowest levels since 1973).

Public skepticism has risen over the hundreds of thousands of prison beds filled by people convicted for minor drug sales or usage. Over 3,000 problem-solving drug courts have opened in the last 12 years. Americans' weariness with our futile 40-year war on drugs has been reflected in the moves by 15 states to legalize medical marijuana, plus last November's high but losing vote (47 percent) for a California initiative to legalize adult marijuana use altogether.  More...   PrisonerPal.com