Baby Stepping Toward a Better Prison System


The prison reform train might be rounding the bend, as policymakers in many budget-busted states realize that long-needed changes to their incarceration-happy justice systems could save money and reduce crime. 

No one's pushing for optimum privatized solutions quite yet, but a growing cadre of governors and other state officials are talking a good game on reforms that would take a chunk out of the $50 billion now spent each year on prisons. That number ranks second only to Medicaid on state balance sheets and is four times what was spent 10 years ago. Some proposals even include releasing or paroling nonviolent offenders.

oh so slowly moving away from Death Therapy

Ideas floated by governors in the past month include giving judges greater flexibility to fit punishment to the crime in Indiana; daytime education centers in Georgia; Arkansas paroling more terminally ill prisoners; and Florida moving 2,000 prisoners to private jails for a savings of $135 million. Pennsylvania's auditor general is warning of the unsustainable costs racked up by the nation's fastest growing penal system, including $250 million spent for exporting prisoners to Michigan and Virginia. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has his state entering a study from the Pew Center on the States, a think tank that's done work on prison reform in more than 20 states.

Now the bad news: Interest groups with a stake in prison bloat will still fight the public good. In California, new-old governor Jerry Brown (D) hasn't moved too hard on reforming the state's cruel and unusually full jails despite election promises. This may have something to do with the fact that the state's prison guard union endorsed Brown for governor. Meanwhile in Indiana prosecutors are resisting the push to reduce drug sentences.

We're still a long way from real reform, but it is a start.

More from Reason on prisons and punishment here. Click below to watch UCLA Professor of Public Affairs Mark Kleiman tell how we can reduce the "randomized draconianism" built into America's justice system.

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  1. Look everyone… I’m sailing!

    1. Is this corn hand-shucked?

  2. No one’s pushing for optimum privatized solutions quite yet

    Perhaps due to the failed history of that idea. Perhaps.

    1. {Citation Needed}

    2. Yeah, it seems weird to complain about the people that earn their keep by locking people up in the same article that you suggest making it for-profit.

      I suppose, if you have an incredibly low opinion of people, you might encourage that so that Democrats will finally get off their asses and care about the issue.

      “Hey, the government’s locking too many people up for bullshit crimes”
      “Wow, dude, that sucks. But since I believe that all human problems can and should be solved through government, it leaves me feeling internally conflicted and uneasy.”


      “Dude, corporations are profiting from creating a fascist police state!”
      “Goddamn those capitalist pigs! Alright, let’s get the gang together and go riot.”

  3. I think some advertisers don’t know Reasonoids very well… here’s one I got today:

    “Want a career in homeland security? Get an online degree. ICDC College.”

    1. Want a career in homeland security?

      Oh my god no.

  4. Of course, we could just listen to Angela Davis an abolish prisons entirely.

    1. Think of the money we’d save!

  5. Here’s an idea: make all prison funding entirely voluntary, from donations no more specific than county and law broken. Make sentences indeterminate — prisoners get released when funding dries up. If people want to donate tax credits to keep robbers or rapists or murderers locked up, that’s their choice. If Plumas county wants to lock up more prisoners than Kern county, that’s their business.

    Prison guard unions would find out real quick how serious people were about prisoners.

  6. I’m glad there’s some agreement with Kleiman about the selective and draconian nature of punishment, but he seems to be about efficiency, not necessarily rights, and his views on procedure and administration are straight out of a progressivist school, which he freely admits to admiring.

    From a HuffPo op-ed this summer that I remember reading and noting:

    Social-services agencies need to be managed with crime control in mind, just as criminal-justice agencies need to be managed to help control disease and serve other non-crime-control purposes

  7. Was there a contest at Reason to see how many links you could fit into the least amount of space in an article?

    If so, I think you win , Josh.

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