NYT Befuddled - January 22, 2002

NYT Befuddled A contradiction to the New York Times: "Since the early 1970's, the number of state prisoners has increased 500 percent, growing each year in the 1990's even as crime fell." That the number of people in prison would grow, "even as crime fell," seemed to befuddle New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield who didnt see the logical connection between the two events.

Former MRCer Clay Water alerted me to the sentence in a January 21 story by Butterfield headlined, "Tight Budgets Force States to Reconsider Crime and Penalties." To put the sentence in full context, heres an excerpt from the beginning of the story. The sentence in question is the ninth one: After three decades of building more prisons and passing tougher sentencing laws, many states are being forced by budget deficits to close some prisons, lay off guards and consider shortening sentences.

In the last month, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois have each moved to close a prison, laying off guards in the process, prison officials say. Washington State is considering a proposal by Gov. Gary Locke to shorten sentences for nonviolent crimes and drug offenses and to make it easier for inmates to win early release, saving money by shrinking the prison population. Colorado and Illinois are delaying building prisons, and Illinois is cutting education for 25,000 inmates.

California, which led the nation's prison building boom, will close five small, privately operated minimum security prisons when their contracts expire this year. Budget pressures are also adding momentum to a push to put a proposal on the California ballot in November that would reduce the number of criminals subject to the state's three-strikes sentencing law.

"I don't know of a correctional system in the country that isn't facing some of this," said Chase Riveland, a former director of Washington State prisons, now a consultant. Steven Ickes, an assistant director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, said, "My sense is that budget problems are making people ask fundamental questions about whether we can afford to keep on doing what we've been doing," locking up ever more criminals for longer periods.

"We are going to have to make some tough choices about prisons versus schools, and about getting a better investment return on how we run our prisons so we don't have so many prisoners reoffending and being sent back." Since the early 1970's, the number of state prisoners has increased 500 percent, growing each year in the 1990's even as crime fell. In that time, prisons were the fastest-growing item in state budgets - often the only growing item. More than two million inmates were in state and federal prisons and local jails, which cost more than $30 billion a year to run, Allen J. Beck, of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, said.... END of Excerpt To read the rest of the article, those registered with the New York Times can go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/21/national/21PRIS.html