A really interesting article in U.S.A. Today on the national push to get prisoners out of jail and into community programs.
In a hushed conference room overlooking the town’s main drag, eight convicted felons, including an aspiring amateur fighter, brandish bright Crayola markers.
Their goal is to match their personalities to one of four colors. Tim Witte, 27, on probation for evading arrest, eyes the task as if sizing up a fellow middle-weight on Kansas’ gritty cage-fighting circuit. Witte and two drug offenders settle on orange.
The color, indicative of a restless, risk-taking personality, is the hue of choice for most offenders, says Michelle Stephenson, the corrections officer leading the unusual exercise. . . .
The class is part of a state effort to save millions of dollars in prison costs by changing how criminals are treated. Kansas is closing some prisons, boosting support for offenders on probation and declining to return them to prison for every probation violation. . . .
Probation officers now help offenders find work, health care, housing, counseling, transportation and child care.
During the past several months, for example, the office spent $110 to cover an offender’s utility payments; $500 for a rent payment; $600 for six bikes the office loans to get to job interviews; $77 for a YMCA membership to help an offender improve his physical condition and $320 for eight anger-management counseling sessions.
All of the assistance is aimed at keeping offenders out of costly prison cells, although Kansas officials say they are only beginning to review whether the offenders who received the assistance have committed new offenses.
Note that very little of this long article actually addresses the “against community sentencing” side, compared to the well-funded and well-placed “pro-community sentencing” activists. The outspoken Joshua Marquis, alone, is quoted speaking in favor of incarceration.
Note, too, that in the article, the Pew Center Study is quoted uncritically — even though their analysis of “cost savings with alternative sentencing” leaves out the cost of additional crimes that are committed by probationers and parolees who could be in prison at the time.
Anti-incarceration advocacy groups like The Sentencing Project have deep pockets to fund their efforts to reduce prison sentences, free offenders to the community, and roll back the clock on the fragile gains made by victim advocates against recidivists over the last two decades. The Sentencing Project’s “research” is advocacy-based, not objectivity-based, yet it is often reported as fact. No sooner did we get some teeth into sentencing laws that removed repeat offenders from the streets than push-back began to free even the most prolific criminals.
As federal funding for law enforcement begins to trickle down to the states, expect much of it to be diverted into efforts that actually release larger numbers of offenders into communities. Those who feel that their money should not be spent on “alternatives to incarceration” will need to stay on top of grants coming to their cities and stay vocal with their legislators. It’s clear that the media — even U.S.A. Today, which usually features thoughtful crime coverage — is not doing a very good job of covering both sides of this debate.