Prisons Release Inmates to Cut Costs


Everything is upside down in Illinois. Prisoners from Guantanamo Bay may move to prisons there while American inmates are getting released early to save money on state budgets.

As it turns out, some states are so wrecked by the economic downturn that they are willing to release criminals from jail. According to one estimate, Illinois' state budget shortfall is close to $13 billion. So now, in addition to hurting for cash, Americans will have to deal with more known criminals on the streets? Sounds like a winning combination — at least there’s less money for them to steal.

According to NPR, the emphasis so far in Illinois has been on releasing “non-violent offenders.” While this precludes the release of murderers, non-violent prisoners can include drug dealers and robbers. Still, there are strong incentives for this plan. Some argue that Illinois may be able to save as much as $5 million by releasing as many as 1,000 prisoners early.

And Illinois is not the only one. Rhode Island and Washington state have already taken this route. And a worry over budgets has caused other states to amend their current prison polices. For example, Oregon has made it easier for inmates to get out sooner by raising the amount of time that can be deducted off a sentence for good behavior.

So where do all of these prisoners go when they get out?

Look to Washington for the answer. Inmates there were released early to help make up for a $9 billion state budget shortfall. Realizing many prisoners had no home to go to, state officials agreed to pay rent on their behalf.

According to the Associated Press, “The Department of Corrections is expected to spend about $955,000 on rent vouchers for roughly 700 offenders through mid-2011, for an overall savings of about $1.5 million over the program's first two years.” So prison housing is more expensive than living in town? Maybe it's time I move to Spokane and start jacking cars.

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