States Accelerate Release of Inmates, Look for Other Ways to Cut Corrections Costs

Looking to cut corrections costs, some states are making it easier for convicts to get out of prison early. To do so, states are loosening "good time credits" that lighten a sentence if an inmate works and behaves.

Some states are also giving bonus credits to inmates who take classes and receive substance abuse treatment and counseling.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) recently released a report that provides background on the cost-cutting measures [PDF]:

"... at least 31 states provide earned time incentives. Several states--including Kansas, Pennsylvania and Colorado--have created or expanded these policies in the past couple of years. The policies accelerate the release of certain inmates who work, take part in rehabilitation, and otherwise prepare to be successful in the community. They are distinct from 'good time' credits, which are awarded for basic compliance with prison rules.

"States that have utilized earned time and other accelerated release policies have not only saved on prison costs but have also seen a reduction in recidivism rates," said Alison Lawrence, a policy specialist with NCSL. 'This is a great opportunity to reinvest money in building safer communities.'

The report finds education and work credits are the most common opportunity for earned time. Inmates can also participate in substance abuse/mental health treatment, disaster or conservation efforts and performing meritorious acts to earn credits. Several states have recently adopted or expanded earned time policies as part of managing prison populations and corrections budgets.

A National Council on Crime and Delinquency review found after looking at 23 years of early release data that there is nothing that would indicate inmates who get out early come back to prison more often. In fact, as the NCSL report noted, some studies say they are less likely to return:

"An evaluation of Wisconsin’s earned time policy, for example, found that 17 percent of inmates released early returned to prison after the first year, compared to 28 percent of those freed on their mandatory release date."

The NCSL study pointed out that Kansas, Pennsylvania and other states offer programs that some say have helped cut prison costs and reduce the number of repeat offenders.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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