Downsizing Prisons

In the American Prospect, Robert Dirnan surveys the alarming growth of the prison population in the United States, and the various problems that’s quite obviously causing. The piece ends with a rousing call to arms: “The time to act is now.” Okay, but what? My preferred solution is to focus on the parole process; according to a 2002 Justice Department study on recidivism, 51.8 percent of released prisoners get right back in within three years. And about half of those are put back in prison for technical violations of parole—oftentimes they don’t even need to commit a crime, they can just miss a few meetings with their case officer. Pretty clearly, attacking this problem would be one of the easiest ways to keep the exploding prison population under control. The question is whether state budget crunches are going to lead governors and state legislatures to seek out actual solutions; but both inertia and vested interests augur for continuing to expand prisons without bound.