Friday, October 26, 2007

Tales of Three States

Each of these states are facing the same basic problem--incarceration rather than more cost- and victim-effective alternatives is taking up huge chunks of scarce resources about to become even scarcer. And each is following different paths to deal with that future:
  • OH may be deciding that the cliff isn't coming up on them fast enough so put the foot on the accelerator. IOW, CA's enormous mess has become something some of their policymakers [sic] want to copy, even importing some of their ideologues to make the case.
  • OTOH, MA's similar situation has one of that state's conservative newspapers scared into reality. Get this: "Meaningful reforms will ensure improvements to only better society. These include reducing crime, restoring families and communities and cost savings to taxpayers. Our citizens deserve nothing less." (h/t Real Cost of Prisons)
  • And more or less in the middle, trying to do something meaningful but maybe failing, OK is looking at trend lines and projections for its exponential prison bed growth, at how it created drug courts to help diversion, and at how the prisons seem to be growing pretty much the same way anyway. A couple of things likely, and not the "well, think how bad it would be without the drug courts" bluff. The drug courts may be pulling in folks who never would have gone to prison in the past anyway and counting them as if they would have. Or, worse, the courts may have high failure rates (40%-50%), meaning the guys end up in prison a year or two later anyway. And, if the judges are like judges I've worked with in other states, they will hammer these guys when they get revoked, meaning they not only go in anyway but will go in for longer, adding to prison costs down the road. No effective evaluation has been done yet, and certainly there has to be varying effectiveness among the multitude of non-uniform courts in the state. But, when your numbers are going up when the program was supposed to get them down, then some independent analysis is necessary. (The drug courts are part of a legislated audit that will presumably add some insight here in a few weeks. We'll let you know if any of it hits the news.)

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