For years the corrections system has been criticized for its unfairness – namely its lengthy sentencing laws.
Yet, why am I not comforted by news that a growing number of states are beginning to relax mandatory state laws, accelerate parole, and increase time off for good behavior?
Namely because these lax in laws aren’t a sign that the justice system has found its conscious; no, it’s just evidence states have started looking at their budgets.
The Los Angeles Times has issued a report on various states that are revising mandatory-sentencing laws that locked up nonviolent offenders. Others are recalculating the way prison time is counted altogether.
For example, in California – which has the country’s second-largest prison system – the state is considering releasing 40,000 inmates to save money and comply with a court ruling that found the state’s prisons overcrowded.
While I’m certain that this population includes a number of non-violent criminals who likely would have benefitted more so from a treatment program than imprisonment, there is still much reason to worry.
The state of California spends $49,000 a year per inmate – nearly twice the national average. Despite this, 70% of prisoners released on parole are back in prison within three years.
With California’s budget tighter than Joan Rivers’ face, how even less successful do you think the state will be in cutting recidivism now?
The same fate may greet states like Colorado, who plans to speed up the parole process for nearly one-sixth of its prison population. Kentucky has already granted early release to more than 3,000 inmates. Oregon has went against its own voters by nullifying a voter initiative calling for stiffer sentences for some crimes, and has increased the time inmates get off their sentences for good behavior by 10%.
I want to be happy for the non-violent offenders getting early releases, but I’m skeptical. Far too many states have done nothing to push low-risk offenders toward rehabilitation and keep dangerous criminals behind bars.
And I can’t help but wonder whether or not states like California will toss out violent criminals early, too, in their dash to make space in their overcrowded prisons.
This news comes on the heel of multiple state governments cutting law enforcement workers in order to keep their budgets balanced.
So we have thousands of criminals being given early release in various states across the country likely without any real treatment that might keep them from returning to jail.
Combine that with a bad economy that’s resulting in less jobs available – including the law enforcement officials who we might need to contain whatever surge in criminal activity these prison releases may spur.
Just what we need, inviting more people to embrace the three Ps: Prayer, pepper spray, and pistols.
I’m not excited. Are you?
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Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.