This New York Times piece from a couple of weeks ago highlights another aspect of humonetarianism: To cut costs, states close prisons down or switch to community programs. Here's the "local interest" bit:
In California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has called for $400 million to be cut from the state’s corrections budget, officials are seeking to remove low-level drug offenders from the parole supervision system and to provide them treatment options instead.
Like other states making such changes, California is led by a governor who long opposed such shifts in prison policies. But Mr. Schwarzenegger, as well as other leaders and lawmakers who are far more conservative, has come around to a view held by advocates of sentencing and prison reform that longer sentences do little to reduce recidivism among certain nonviolent criminals.“In California we are out of room and we’re out of money,” said the state’s corrections secretary, Matthew Cate. “It may be time to take some of these steps that we should have taken long ago.”
But we are by no means the thriftiest state. Other states have been examining prisons to see whether they are efficient, and are closing them down. And other states are also reforming their sentencing laws, particularly minimum sentences for drug offenders. Many concede that the big waste of money is parole and are cutting down on supervision.
A few thoughts on some of the trends in the piece:
- By closing down prisons and transporting people to other prisons, we may be saving costs, but we're perpetuating the setup of prisons as far away gulags. A visit from one's family becomes more unlikely if everyone is shipped to a facility far away.
- The cuts, as Jennifer Steinhauer points out, go both ways. While treatment options are perceived to be cost-saving mechanisms, they need to defend their own funding. In emergency times, when short-term thinking is prevalent, lengthy project evaluation, examining declines in recidivism, may not be possible.
- This is something I've already said regarding the Plata/Coleman decision: I am deeply concerned that mass release of prisoners with no job skills and little support by way of reentry programs is a self-defeating step, which, without overhauling other systems, will lead to their return to prison. This sort of thing will only work if parole is retooled as an instrument of rehabilitation and hope.