States ponder early release for prisoners – Economy in Turmoil- msnbc.com
NEW YORK – Their budgets in crisis, governors, legislators and prison officials across the nation are making or considering policy changes that will likely remove tens of thousands of offenders from prisons and parole supervision.
In California, faced with a projected $42 billion deficit and prison overcrowding that has triggered a federal lawsuit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate parole for all offenders not convicted of violent or sex-related crimes, reducing the parole population by about 70,000. He also wants to divert more petty criminals to county jails and grant early release to more inmates — steps that could trim the prison population by 15,000 over the next 18 months.
In Kentucky, where the inmate population had been soaring, even some murderers and other violent offenders are benefiting from a temporary cost-saving program that has granted early release to nearly 2,000 inmates.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is proposing early release of about 1,000 inmates. New York Gov. David Paterson wants early release for 1,600 inmates as well as an overhaul of the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws that impose lengthy mandatory sentences on many nonviolent drug offenders.
Here’s an idea: how about you stop arresting so many of those non-violent drug offenders in the first place? Based on the numbers from the FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2007:
- California arrested 289,449 people for drugs
- Kentucky arrested 11,883 people for drugs
- Virginia arrested 32,941 people for drugs
- New York arrested 61,163 people for drugs
Now if it is too scary to think about not arresting the users of all illegal drugs, let’s narrow it down to cannabis. The FBI didn’t give me state-level breakdowns of cannabis arrests, but nationwide cannabis accounts for 47% of all drug arrests. For the four states mentioned, that’s 185,854 cannabis arrests, and since 89% of those are possession-only arrests, that’s 165,410 otherwise law-abiding pot smokers arrested – not growers, traffickers, or dealers, just tokers.
To be fair, most of these 165,410 don’t spend much more than their booking time in a jail. But it still takes time, money, and space to prosecute them and that begins to add up. If these four states mentioned just taxed and regulated cannabis like Jagermeister, combined they’d raise $1.9 billion every year. That wouldn’t completely solve these states’ budget crises, but it sure would keep a few more actual criminals behind bars.