Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Economy forces tough-on-crime legislatures to temper their rhetoric

That is the subject of an excellent post on's Criminal Justice blog titled, "A Shift Away From 'Tough on Crime' in Florida." Because the economic downturn is even being felt by state governments – a falling tide lowers all boats, as it were – policymakers around the country are turning their attention to the massive costs America's out-of-control prison population. What are some fair and just ways to reduce the prison population? Is it focusing on rehabilitation for drug crimes, as Obama has signaled? Is it focusing on re-entry programs for ex-offenders, or perhaps lowering ridiculous sentences for non-violent crimes? Perhaps it is all of the above:

On Friday, Florida lawmakers passed a budget including an expansion of drug courts and rejected proposals to stiffen sentences for sex crimes and drug crimes. When Florida legislators pass on a chance for long sentences, something is going on... This year's cutbacks are hopefully the beginning of something bigger in Florida, where the expanding prison population has led to estimates of opening 20 prisons in the next five years.
We can certainly hope that this is the beginning of something good, that legislators won't turn around and re-think their sensible decisions just because they have the money to throw at private prison contractors again. Florida's prison population just passed 100,000 inmates, not counting those on parole or probation, or otherwise under the control of the Department of Corrections. With a number that astronomical, and with a gigantic budget hole to fill, it's time to think about starting to institute more fiscally – and morally – responsible sentencing policies.


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