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Breaking the Addiction to Incarceration: Weekly Highlights

Alex Stamm,
ACLU Center for Justice
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February 24, 2012

Today, the U.S. 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 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.

Private Prison Divestment
Earlier this year, the United Methodist Church Board of Pension and Health Benefits withdrew all of its investments from companies that draw more than 10 percent of their profits from private prisons, including almost $1 million in stocks from the nation’s two largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Last year, major hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management jettisoned 3.4 million shares of private prison stock. This story explores the movement, backed by a broad coalition that includes PICO and the Detention Watch Network, to stop investing in corporations that profit from locking more people up for longer while cutting corners to increase profits.

The White House Budget: Cut Medicare, Grow Prisons
The White House wants to spend less on services such as Medicare and Medicaid, but more on prisons. In its FY2013 budget, the White House asked for a 4.2 percent increase in allocation to the Bureau of Prisons, which would bring the federal prison agency’s budget to more than $6.9 billion. Are more dollars buying more safety? Only one in 10 federal inmates is serving time for violent crime, with the continuing rise in prison population driven largely by an increase in drug-related convictions.

Illinois Governor Announces Plan to Close Tamms Supermax Prison
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced a plan to close the notorious Tamms “supermax” prison, which drew criticism for its extensive use of solitary confinement. The plan, which also contemplates closing a maximum-security women’s prison, would save the state $48 million in the 2013 budget year and tens of millions more thereafter.

California Sees Fewer Probation Failures Under Incentive Plan for Counties
The story of California’s behemoth prison system is in large part a story of probation failures, which is itself a story of perverse incentives. Cash-strapped counties, which administer probation agencies, have had little incentive to improve community supervision since each probation failure means one fewer individual to supervise. That was before 2009, when the state decided to reverse the financial incentive and begin rewarding counties that reduce the rate at which they send probationers to prison. So far, the program has been a success – California’s probation failure rate declined 23 percent in 2010.

West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy to Governor: It’s Time for a Change [Report]
West Virginia has a prison problem. Its crime rate isn’t moving, but its prison population is rising, and its prisons are already past capacity. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy issued a report finding that minorities are overrepresented in its prisons, most offenders are low-risk and current facilities are failing on almost every count at rehabilitative services. The non-partisan agency concludes that adding more prison beds is the wrong answer to the problem.

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