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Breaking the Addication to Incarceration: Weekly Highlights

Rebecca McCray,
Managing Editor,
American Civil Liberties Union
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March 9, 2011

Today, the U.S. today has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. With over 2.3 million men and women living behind bars, our imprisonment rate is the highest it’s ever been in U.S. history. And yet, our criminal justice system has failed on every count: public safety, fairness and cost-effectiveness. Across the country, the criminal justice reform conversation is heating up. Each week, we’ll feature our some of the most exciting and relevant news in overincarceration discourse that we’ve spotted from the previous week. Check back weekly for our top picks.

Alabama: Group of formerly incarcerated people visit area, discuss prison reform
A group of formerly incarcerated and convicted people convened this week in Alabama to offer their voice in a larger conversation about prison reform, including tough issues like the high cost of overcrowded prisons and barriers to reentering society.

California: Despite medical parole law, hospitalized prisoners are costing taxpayers millions
At a time when our budgets are already dangerously dwindling in every state, California taxpayers are paying approximately $800,000 a year to “protect themselves” from the unlikely escape of Edward Ortiz, a 57 year-old semi-paralyzed inmate in the Bay Area. There are at least two dozen other incarcerated people racking up massive medical bills locked up in the state.

Kentucky: Gov. Beshear signs bill aimed at lowering prison population
In a landmark legislative moment, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law this week a bipartisan bill that will divert more nonviolent drug offenders into treatment instead of prison, which will save the state a significant amount of cash.

Pennsylvania: Sentencing Changes Cited as Prison Numbers Dip
Gov. Tom Corbett recently decided against funding? a new $200 million prison. His decision wasn’t popular with everyone in the state, but it does signal some exciting news: Pennsylvania’s prison population is decreasing, thanks in no small part to sentencing changes made in 2008 that shortened prison terms for nonviolent offenses, offering treatment or other therapeutic programs as a constructive alternative to lengthy sentences. Prison population trends like these are promising, and may encourage similar legislative movement in other states.

Editorial: Repeat offenders
The Washington Post reports that 40 percent of people on probation and parole will return to prison for a later offense after their release. It would be easy to adopt the “once a criminal, always a criminal” mindset in response to this statistic, but the situation is not so simple. As this editorial notes, some facets of our probation and parole systems actually inhibit, rather than facilitate, successful reentry to society after prison.

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