Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Jersey & Pennsylvania Reassess Sentences

This good article from New Jersey's Asbury Park Press describes how both Pennsylvania and New Jersey are feeling the budget crunch and looking to prisons for cost savings.  A snippet:

“The fact that our budget is $1.86 billion has a lot of people rethinking some of the assumptions we’ve made in the past,” said John E. Wetzel, Pennsylvania’s secretary of corrections. “When we over-incarcerate individuals — and there is a portion of our population that we over-incarcerate — we’re not improving public safety. Quite the opposite.”
Advocates of prison reform say Pennsylvania and New Jersey could be well-positioned for change. Both governors are Republican former prosecutors, credentials that buffer accusations that whittling down the prison population means going “soft” on crime.
And Govs. Corbett and Christie have picked corrections chiefs who support a more rehabilitative approach to corrections, a method that, studies show, can reduce recidivism.
Wetzel and New Jersey’s corrections commissioner, Gary M. Lanigan, want to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison, diverting them to drug rehabilitation or other programs instead.
“People are realizing that there is a huge cost to incarceration, and there’s ways to do it smarter,” Lanigan said. “There are people who belong in prison and there’s people who are better served in the community.”
It is flat-out encouraging to see two heads of corrections departments calling for smarter sentences.

Smarter sentencing must include repeal or curtailment of mandatory minimum prison sentences.  All the alternatives to incarceration in the world won't help if judges can't use them.

Now, let's hope these states' governors and legislators listen up and act.