Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rising Number In Nation's Prisons

By MARK SPENCER | The Hartford Courant
11:01 AM EST, March 2, 2009

One in 31 Americans is in prison, on parole or on probation, costing states more than $50 billion a year, the Pew Center on the States reported today. In Connecticut, the number is one in 33.

The number of people on parole and probation rose from 1.6 million 25 years ago to more than 5 million today. But despite the potential of supervised release programs to reduce crime, most resources go to supporting far more expensive prison systems, the report's authors say.

"Most states are facing serious budget deficits," said Susan Urahn, managing director of The Pew Center on the States. "Every single one of them should be making smart investments in community corrections that will help them cut costs and improve outcomes."

Connecticut is trying to improve parole and probation services, despite some setbacks.

The state is 18th in the country in the number of adults on parole and probation, compared with 35th in the number of adults incarcerated: one in 121.

Brian Garnett, spokesman for the state Department of Correction, said Commissioner Theresa C. Lantz changed the approach after she was appointed in 2003 from an "incarceration model to a re-entry model," preparing inmates to return to their communities.

As a result, Connecticut led the nation in prison population decline with a 4.2 percent decrease in 2003, Garnett said. The trend continued for two years but then began to inch back up, hitting a record number of inmates last year.

Garnett said the initial increase was due to several violent summers in the state's big cities. Then in 2007, Gov. M. Jodi Rell suspended the parole of violent offenders for four months after two parolees were charged with the brutal Petit murders in Cheshire and another parolee was accused of an armed carjacking.

The state's prison population now stands at roughly 19,000, slightly down from its all-time peak of 19,894 in February 2008.

Garnett said post-Cheshire reforms in parole will lead to appropriate inmates being returned to the community.

"This is done in a very methodical way," he said.

More monitoring by parole officers and GPS systems, along with assistance with housing, employment and drug rehabilitation, are keys to reducing the prison population and ultimately saving tax dollars, according to the Pew report.

"Violent and career criminals need to be locked up, and for a long time," said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center. "But our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost."

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