Skip to comments.Inmates Go Free to Help States Reduce Deficits By
Posted on 12/19/2002 5:48:54 AM PST by Kerberos
LEXINGTON, Ky., Dec. 18 They began walking out of the Fayette County Jail here this afternoon, the first of 567 Kentucky state prison inmates that Gov. Paul E. Patton abruptly ordered released this week in a step to reduce a $500 million budget deficit.
Governor Patton said only nonviolent offenders were being given the early mass commutation. But those let out today included men convicted of burglary, theft, arson and drug possession, some of them chronic criminals.
"A percentage of them are going to recommit a crime, and some of them are going to be worse than the crimes they are in for," Mr. Patton acknowledged in announcing the emergency releases. But, he added, "I have to do what I have to do to live within the revenue that we have."
It is a quandary that confronts an increasing number of politicians across the nation in this time of deficits. After three decades of building ever more prisons and passing tougher sentencing laws, politicians now see themselves as being forced to choose between keeping a lid on spending or being tough on crime.
As a result, states are laying off prison guards, or giving prisoners emergency early releases like those in Kentucky. Some states have gone so far as to repeal mandatory minimum sentences or to send drug offenders to treatment rather than to prison in an effort to slow down the inflow of new inmates.
And in other locales, prosecutors or courts have placed a moratorium on misdemeanor cases like shoplifting, domestic violence and prostitution.
"What has happened is that as corrections has grown so enormously and consumed so many resources, it has finally become a target for budget cutters as the economy has turned down," said Chase Riveland, a former director of the corrections departments in Washington and Colorado and now a prison consultant.
The pressure to change stems from the math. Since the early 1970's, the number of state prisoners has risen 500 percent, making corrections the fastest growing item in most state budgets.
With more than two million inmates currently in state and federal prisons and local jails, the bill for corrections has reached $30 billion, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
To cope, Iowa has laid off prison guards. Ohio and Illinois have closed prisons.
Montana, Arkansas and Texas, along with Kentucky, have discovered loopholes that allow them to release convicted felons early, getting around the strict truth-in-sentencing laws and no parole policies passed in the 1990's that were supposed to prevent such releases.
In Oklahoma, Gov. Frank Keating, a conservative Republican who added 1,000 new inmates a year to the state's once small prison system, has asked the Pardon and Parole Board to find 1,000 nonviolent inmates to release early as a result of the state's budget crisis.
"Oklahoma has always prided itself on being a law-and-order state," said Cal Hobson, a Democrat who is president of the State Senate. "Now we've got more law and order than we can afford."
In Virginia Beach, Commonwealth Attorney Harvey L. Bryant III, the local prosecutor, has announced that because of state cutbacks to his office's budget, he will no longer prosecute the 2,200 misdemeanor domestic violence cases he gets a year.
"I deeply regret that the victims of domestic violence will no longer have a prosecutor on their side," said Mr. Bryant, a Republican. "But something had to go. I'm two assistant attorneys short."
All of these changes will save some money, but will not undo the fiscal imbalances caused by the prison boom of the 1980's and 1990's, said Nicholas Turner, director of national programs at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York, a research organization.
To make larger savings, a number of states have begun to look at more fundamental changes in the very laws they passed over the past two decades.
Last week the legislature in Michigan, faced with a budget deficit and prison overcrowding, voted to repeal the state's strict mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug crimes which have led to even life sentences for possession of cocaine or heroin. John Engler, the departing Republican governor, is expected to sign the bill into law.
In Kansas, the Kansas Sentencing Commission will recommend to the Legislature next month a new policy under which people arrested for simple drug possession, with no record of prior arrests for violent crimes or drug trafficking, will be placed in mandatory treatment instead of sent to prison.
Since the sentencing commission is made up of a bipartisan group of legislators, as well as prosecutors and judges, the plan is expected to pass the Legislature.
Savings under the new policy will be sizeable, said Barbara Tombs, the executive director of the commission.
About 1,500 of Kansas' 9,000 inmates are projected to be eligible, with the cost for a year in drug treatment about $2,500 compared with $21,000 for a year in prison. And, because Kansas had earlier eliminated most drug treatment in its prisons, the commission forecasts that recidivism should be lower, saving the cost of locking drug addicts up over and over.
"I think this is critical for Kansas," Ms. Tombs said. "We are at capacity now in our prisons, and we are either going to have to build a new prison, which we cannot afford, or institute alternative sentencing policies for some offenders."
"We don't want to do what Kentucky is doing," Ms. Tombs said, "letting dangerous people out the back end."
Similarly, in Alabama, where a judge has fined the state for dumping inmates on county jails, a sentencing commission will make reform recommendations to the Legislature early next year to stem the inflow of prison inmates. These measures include restoring flexibility for judges in making sentencing decisions and placing more offenders on probation or in halfway houses rather than in the state's prisons.
Georgia, Utah, Idaho and Nebraska are all considering some version of these sentencing overhauls to reduce the number of new state inmates.
Mr. Turner, noting that most of the states making fundamental changes are controlled by Republicans, said: "This seems like one of those Nixon goes to China things. After years of being tough on crime, only Republicans have the credentials to change prison policy."
Moreover, Mr. Turner said, the politicians making these reforms, and those ordering early release of inmates, have been helped by the decline in the crime rate over the past decade, reducing public anxiety about crime.
A few states have bucked the trend. New York, for example, which has one of the largest prison systems, has been able to avoid early releases or major changes in sentencing because the large drop in crime in New York City has meant fewer people going to prison.
In Lexington today, Vincent Thomas walked out of the Fayette County Jail a free man, without even the need to report to a parole officer or pass urine tests for drugs.
Mr. Thomas paused to shake hands with Glenn Brown, the county jailer, said thanks to Governor Patton for releasing the 567 inmates and promised he would stay clean and not come back.
Ray Larson, the Fayette commonwealth's attorney, expressed skepticism.
"By letting them out, we know they are sooner or later going to commit more crimes," said Mr. Larson, a Democrat who has been elected prosecutor here since 1982.
The seven men released from the Fayette County Jail today, Mr. Larson noted, had a total of 21 prior felony convictions and 130 convictions for misdemeanors. And they probably have even longer records, Mr. Larson said, because in Kentucky first-time offenders seldom get convicted except for the most serious crimes.
"It is a discouraging day to people in law enforcement," Mr. Larson said. "It will probably follow that the crime rate will rise, and judges will be reluctant to sentence these people to prison only to see them released."
Governor Patton, a Democrat, specified that those released were all convicted of Class D felonies, the lowest level under Kentucky law. They had an average of 80 days remaining on their sentences.
Most of those released today have been held in county jails around Kentucky, instead of in the state's prisons, because Kentucky's prison population now more than 15,000 has grown faster than the number of state prison beds.
The releases, some of which took place today, with another batch to be freed on Friday, will result in an immediate savings of $1.3 million, Governor Patton said.
Some politicians expressed support for the governor's action, saying they do not oppose the early release of nonviolent offenders but do oppose higher taxes.
"It's very expensive to warehouse someone who's not a threat to the community," said Dan Kelly, a Republican who is majority leader in the State Senate.
On the other hand, Kentucky's attorney general, Ben Chandler, a Democrat, said, "It is my opinion that the amount of time a criminal serves in prison should be based on the crime committed, not on the balance of the state treasury."
Two, why are these scum just being turned out, as opposed to placed on parole or under home-confinement (electronic monitoring?) Our local prosecutor said this is a "get out of jail free card." Many prosecutors are very angry over this and they should be.
Three, this is a scare tactic designed to cause citizens to more receptive to tax increases the Governor wants and will propose. We have viable Republicans running for Governor next year and what this Democrat Governor is doing demonstrates the very serious need for a change.
I had this to say yesterday regarding politicians methods to soften up the people for tax increases...
Run your memory banks and think of all the times that your state and other states have found themselves with a looming "budget shortfall". The people say NO to tax increases at the outset. The politicians then draw up a plan to reduce spending to avoid having to raise taxes. What services do they say will "need" to be cut to avoid a tax increase? Every time it is fire, police, education, and healthcare. This then gets enough people worried that these services will be cut and they don't want that to happen. The people then relent and accept that taxes must be increased to "save" these services.
From this thread
"Sorry we let this scum out and he killed your little girls Mrs. Johnson, but you gotta understand, we were looking for ways to save money."
I have a cost-cutting idea - Stop treating the inmates so damn well - a cell and 2 meals a day and no special conveniences and only emergency medical would be a start - make prison a place to be avoided and it will add to the deterrence effect.
<SesameStreet>Which of these is not like the others?
Which of these doesn't belong?</SesameStreet>
Release all possession-only prisoners of the WOD immediately, and the overcrowding problem is solved.
Let's hear the Holy Drug Warrior crowd's take on this Sesame Street question.
I would also suggest a shift in emphasis to recompense to victims instead of "paying a debt to society". No one should be allowed to get away with crime by just serving time. Serving time should be in addition to having to make recompense.
And that would not surprise me as it seems I have seen this tactic employed before. But then again the whole crime issue seems to, more often than note,be employed as a scare tactic.
Over the years I have noticed that politicians tend to run on the crime issue when one of two conditions are present.
1. They don't really have and issue to run on.
2. They want to avoid the real issues of the day.
It's a pretty safe tactic to run a campaign on in that you can proclaim "if you elect me I'm ,reeeeeally going to do something about crime," and it's a pretty safe bet that there's not too many town hall meetings you would go to where people would say, "I don't know, more crime is something I would like to see in our community."
I've also noticed that in some instances after being elected they actually do pass some law or measure that is targeted as being tough on crime but in the end it doesn't seem to have much of an appreciable effect. More often than not, it appears that when we do have a noticeable decrease in crime it is more due to demographic changes than anything else.
And although the governor of Kentucky in this instance is a Democrat there are other statements present throughout the article that would suggest that Republicans favor this approach as well. Most notable is the following.
Mr. Turner, noting that most of the states making fundamental changes are controlled by Republicans
I have often thought that prisons could benefit from being run more like military boot camps, but liberals seem to think that would violate their(prisoners) civil rights.
Actually that was the original concept, by the Quakers, of which the word penitentiary comes from. The Quakers would take someone; throw them into solitary with a copy of the bible, so that they could have some time to contemplate the errors of their ways, and to become repentant.
I also see very little use in paying big money to incarcerate people after recompense is made. I'd like to see some punishment which costs less but is real punishment.
For instance, when the high and mighty do lowly things, they should be made to pay by doing more lowly but honorable things. Like wearing a sandwich board describing their crimes while sweeping the floor or cleaning toilets.
Seeing an person like Ivan Boesky with a broom and a sandwich board saying "I wanted to clean up on Wall Street, and now I'm getting my wish" as he sweeps the street in front of the Stock Exchange everyday for a few years would satisfy me and humiliate him at the same time. Just my ramblings.......
Ok, we have a winner. That is the best one I've heard this week.
But that is not anything new in law. Victims of crimes have always been able to go after those who have harmed them on the civil side of the court. And as we saw in the OJ Simpson legal proceedings they dont even have to be convicted in the criminal court for the aggrieved party to go after them on the civil side.
The problem is that those who commit crimes, with a few notable exceptions, generally dont have any assets or revenue streams to go after. Most of them are already relying on public defenders to provide their legal representation. And when you consider the fact that after their release from prison they will more than likely never be able to get any kind of a well paying job, due to the fact that they have a felony conviction on their record, pursing them for payment for all intents and purposes is an exercise in futility.
Sometimes true, which is of course in my view, no reason not to pursue it.
I would postit, that in many crimes against people, recompense is not pursued at all. And society, not to mention the victims, suffers harm because of it.
Young offenders rarely are made to make their victims whole. If a teen steals a car and it is recovered minus many parts and contents, the perp is almost never made to restore the aggreived party to his former postition. The perp is given jail or more often probation, but then his debt is concidered paid. It's nonsense in my view.
This exact crime happened to a friend of mine and I advised him to appear in court and ask the judge for recompense. The judge was a little surprised at the request but agreed and ordered the perp to pay him off in installments. The first payment was made and nothing further was ever seen. All efforts to get the authorities to follow up were met with silence or indifference. In the end, the prosecuters just tried to get rid of him, the victim. They told him he to forget it.
Meanwhile, the lesson learned by the perp will almost certainly lead him to conclude that crime, does indeed, pay.
I would respectfully disagree with you on that point. The primary reasonability of the state, in it's operation of the criminal justice system, is to protect society from those who would do us harm. After that, we might be able to negotiate what other extended obligations they have.
I would posit, that in many crimes against people, recompense is not pursued at all. And society, not to mention the victims, suffers harm because of it.
And I would counter with why not? As I pointed out in my previous post people have always had the right, and the mechanism in place, to go after those who commit crimes against them for financial compensation. It is through filing an action on the civil side of the court against the person who has caused you loss. In addition, I would submit that the main reason that they dont do such is they probable dont have any idea that they can or, as a bumper sticker I saw on a car once said, You think education is expensive, try ignorance.
In the end, the prosecutors just tried to get rid of him, the victim. They told him he to forget it.
Which does not surprise me. Prosecutors are elected officials that get themselves elected by getting convictions. They do not get elected by being a successful collection agency, and even if they were successful at it, no one is ever going to take a look at those stats. So consequently they are going to spend their time engaged in activities that are going to get them reelected, and that is accomplished through getting convictions. And why you would want to engage the state as your personal advocate is beyond me. But then again I am a firm believe in the axiom that if you want to screw something up real good, get the government involved, as I have found that to be true on more than one occasion. Hell Im just trying to work with the local police department this morning to get them to coral a coyote that is running around the neighborhood, an undertaking that seems to beyond their abilities. Like I was talking with my neighbor last night, if we didnt have laws against discharging guns within the city limits, we could get the 12 gauge out and take care of this coyote problem real fast.
I suppose the thing that bothers me most about your position is that at the root of it is the idea that the state as an obligation to take care of you and\or act on your behalf. I dont need the state to look out for my interest, aside from providing me with the courts to pursue those interest in, and would much prefer that they stay out of it.
For the murderers, rapists, robbers, arsonists, yes. Make them do hard time, and let the pot smokers go. That's how we'll save money.
It's too expensive... And it acomplishes what?
Don't know - let's ask the experts ...
The only rightful role of government in a free society is to defend rights. The only one. In the absence of that, I have no need of them whatsoever.
The primary reasonability of the state, in it's operation of the criminal justice system, is to protect society from those who would do us harm.
You said it yourself. Where you get the idea that I think the government should "take care of me" is a mystery to me.
Your idea about civil courts is partially right, but it runs into trouble when you mix criminal activity with civil tort disagreements. And as to taking care of yourself, no problem, but the only reason most people consent to governments is to give them the power to use force on their behalf. Otherwise, chaos.
Where are people imprisoned merely for smoking cannabis inside the privacy of their own homes?
No it has nothing to do with them taking care of me. It has to do with the reasonability of the state to apprehend those who commit crimes and bring them to justice. Otherwise what we have is vigilantism.
"Your idea about civil courts is partially right, but it runs into trouble when you mix criminal activity with civil tort disagreements"
The "me" I was talking about was, me. Not you.
I understood you to say that that you thought that I believed that government should take care of me. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It has to do with the reasonability of the state to apprehend those who commit crimes and bring them to justice.
I agree, and I would add that justice will only truly be done in any particular case after the perpetrator has been made to make the victim whole. I think it is a big part of their responsibility. I take it that you do not agree. Ok, no problem, agreement with me on any particular issue is rare. I'm used to it.
Otherwise what we have is vigilantism.
my point precisely.
And I am not necessarily disagreeing with you on that. I think our disagreement is on the point that you think that should fall under the purview of the criminal side of the court and I contend that there is already a mechanism in place for restitution on the civil side of the court. Of course it involves people exercising their right of redress, a process they have to initiate.
But you stated:"Your idea about civil courts is partially right, but it runs into trouble when you mix criminal activity with civil tort disagreements"
And so I ask, how does my position on that run into trouble?
Are you advocating anarchy?
Because of this. We simply disagree.
I think our disagreement is on the point that you think that should fall under the purview of the criminal side of the court and I contend that there is already a mechanism in place for restitution on the civil side of the court.
IF I have a disagreement with someone on a non-criminal matter, the civil courts are the place for it to be resolved. If, however, my rights are violated criminally, it is the criminal courts that decide if I have been done wrong and who is resposible. And to have redundant actions makes no sense to me. Also I should incur no costs whatsoever when I have already paid taxes in order for the government to defend my rights.
The "punishment" of the perpetrator should first and foremost be in the form of returning me to the same condition as I was before my rights were violated. Whatever wrong done to "society" as a whole should be suborndinate to that, IMO.
I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding as to what your standing, in a criminal complaint, is. You seem to think that if a crime is committed against you then the state, represented by the prosecutor, is there to be your personnel attorney. That simply is not true.
The state is there, again through the prosecutor, to represent the interest of the people as a whole, not you individually. You just happen to be the focal point of the issue. Hence, that is why when a complaint is drafted in a criminal proceeding, it reads, The People vs., or The State of California vs, not Thomas Jefferson vs.
Criminal Law. The substantive criminal law is that law which for the purpose of preventing harm to society. Blacks Law Dictionary, 5th Edition pg. 337
Criminal prosecution. An action or proceeding instituted in a proper court on behalf of the public, for the purpose of securing the conviction and punishment of one accused of crime. Blacks Law Dictionary, 5th Edition pg. 337
Because of being the victim of a crime, you suffer financial loss; it is your reasonability to recoup those losses, which is accomplished by filing a civil action. Not by using the state, and hence my tax dollars, to have the state act as your personal attorney. So in short, the states primary function is to represent the interest of the people, and thus their security, not their financial interest. . .
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That is your characterization, not mine. But it's not me who has a fundamental misunderstanding, it is you. That is to say, you misunderstand what my comments on this issue were about. They were not about how it is, but rather how I think it should be. I think that the people of the state and the people of the society would be better served by doing it the way I think it should be, not how it is. We can disagree on that, but it is, what it is. And it is my opinion and simply personal speculation, so while you may disagree, it cannot be wrong.
I thought I had been clear about that because of my frequent use of the term, "IMO", during my posts.
On to the next thing, Regards TJ
Doesn't everybody. LOL...Or as one poster lamented to me "If only I were king."
You are correct I did misunderstand that you were arguing from the perspective of what should be, not what is.
Is this an actual case or just a hypothetical one?