Arizona Bucks Trend of Fewer State Prison Inmates
Thursday, March 18, 2010
PHOENIX - For the first time since 1972, the number of state prison inmates in the U.S. has declined, according to a yearly tally by the Pew Center on the States, but not in Arizona. The number of inmates in state prisons at the beginning of this year was 0.4 percent lower nationally than in 2009; about 5,000 less for a total of around 1.4 million. But, Arizona added almost 2.5 percent more inmates in 2009.
Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project for the Pew Center on the States, which issued the report, says the statistics demonstrate a shift in thinking has occurred within many states on managing public safety.
"There was an old way of approaching this issue; 'how do I demonstrate that I'm tough on crime?' But now, more and more policymakers are asking a better question; 'how do I get taxpayers a better public safety return for their dollars?'"
Donna Hamm, director of the Arizona group Middle Ground Prison Reform, says, in the past two years, some large states such as Texas have reduced inmate populations by reducing some sentences, removing mandatory minimums in some cases, and by re-examining eligibility for release.
"All of those things are working out well for those states. There aren't any compromises to public safety that are evident at this point. We certainly hope Arizona would begin to seriously examine those particular ways to reduce prison growth."
However, sentence reductions should not apply to violent criminals or sex offenders, adds Hamm.
"There are plenty of lower-level, non-dangerous prisoners and drug-related offenders who could successfully be managed in the community at much, much lower cost."
Only five states expanded their prison populations more than Arizona last year. The Pew report notes that the number of inmates in federal prisons continues to increase rapidly.
The full report is at www.pewtrusts.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=57795.
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