Saturday, March 10, 2007

Interesting Developments in New Hampshire and a Question

According to this story published yesterday in The Nashua Telegraph, the New Hampshire Legislature is seriously engaged in addressing corrections costs as evidenced by two legislative initiatives being pursued.

According to the piece, the Legislature will consider two bills aimed at reducing the state’s prison population this year. One bill proposes to let inmates out earlier, as a reward for good behavior. Another bill would create a committee to look into other ways, beside prison, to deal with non-violent offenders. House Bill 595 revives a proposal that the legislature rejected in 2004: to let prison inmates out early as a reward for good, under the state’s “truth in sentencing” law, inmates aren’t eligible for parole until they’ve served the minimum term of their sentence. Misbehavior behind bars can add time to their minimum. In the county jails, which house people sentenced to less than a year, inmates can earn up to a third off their sentence by toeing the line.The bill would allow corrections officials to reduce inmates’ sentences by up to 12.5 days out of every month, as a reward for good behavior. The story continues:

The state prison is among the fastest-growing areas of the state budget, thanks mainly to a growing inmate population, according to reports by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies. The state corrections budget rose from about $49 million in 1997 to nearly $89 million at present, the report states. The prison population also increased steadily during that time, despite declining crime rates, as more people are being sent back to prison for parole violations, the Center reports. The Department of Corrections estimated last year that the average, annual cost of keeping a person behind bars is $31,140. Implementing a new “good time” law wouldn’t be much trouble, Lyons said. The current “truth in sentencing” system took effect in 1988, and the prison still houses some inmates who were sentenced under older laws that provided time off for good behavior, Lyons said.Softer time for non-violent crime

A less controversial proposal would establish a joint House and Senate committee to study sentencing alternatives and funding for rehabilitation programs for non-violent committee would be charged with looking into options including more substance abuse treatment and more extensive electronic monitoring, and reporting back with recommendations in November. The two bills are among a handful of proposals currently under consideration to slightly alter the state’s criminal justice system.

After reading seemingly countless stories about similar efforts being undertaken in states across the country, I'd like to pose a question to readers, especially those who reside in New Jersey: why is it that New Jersey is evidently impervious to this nationwide trend, particularly when its coffers are bone dry, its corrections budget exceeds one billion dollars, and it incarcerates, by a very wide margin, the largest percentage (32%) of drug offenders, the vast majority of whom are (natch) minorities. I have my own ideas, but I'd be immensely grateful for some feedback and constructive advise.

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