States using early release of prisoners to save money

Monday, 01 March 2010 20:15
prisonMF011410_opt_optBY JOHN GRAMLICH

For Floyd Prozanski, it makes perfect sense to give some prisoners a chance to reduce their time behind bars, provided they complete educational or vocational programs and behave while they are incarcerated.

"You and I on the outside, we have a chance of getting a raise or promotion," says Prozanski, a Democratic state senator from Eugene, Ore. "What better way to teach (prisoners) that there are incentives for them to do well inside the walls?"

Prozanski, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, last year helped craft a law that lets some Oregon inmates trim as much as 30 percent from their sentences through expanded "earned-time credits," which are awarded to prisoners who finish coursework, gain work experience or otherwise work to improve their lives behind bars. Created to save the state money in extremely lean fiscal times, the law has moved up release dates for about 3,500 prisoners, including about 950 who have already been released from prison an average of 55 days ahead of schedule.

But a recent backlash over Oregon's law serves as a reminder of the political pitfalls that can accompany changes in criminal justice policy, particularly when those changes open prison doors earlier for some inmates. California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Wisconsin are among the other states that have recently accelerated prisoner releases or are considering doing so.

Victims' advocates groups have attacked Oregon's law as a threat to public safety, airing a statewide radio ad that paints an ominous picture about the releases' effect on crime rates. Prosecutors and the Democratic state attorney general say the law goes too far and that inmates should be able to shave no more than 15 percent off their sentences through credits, the same percentage the federal government allows. Generating even more opposition is a loophole that lawmakers acknowledge should never have found its way into the law, making some serious criminals eligible for accelerated releases.

"This has been extremely hurtful, and extremely traumatic for crime victims," Steve Doell, president of the group Crime Victims United of Oregon, said during testimony about the law earlier this month.

As to whether accelerated-release programs lead to more crime by those who are released, research shows otherwise. A review by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency of at least 12 studies, for example, found unchanged or lower recidivism rates among prisoners who benefited from accelerated-release programs in states including Illinois, Wisconsin and Florida.

Amid mounting public pressure, Oregon lawmakers last week suspended the earned-time program until 2011 while the state evaluates it. They also made changes to ensure that serious criminals no longer will be eligible for 30 percent sentence reductions when the program resumes. Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski signed the revisions into law over the objections of Republicans, who wanted to repeal the program altogether.

Budget-driven efforts to speed prisoner releases and save states money have touched off political debates elsewhere this year, a major election year in which lawmakers in 46 states face reelection and no candidate wants to be labeled "soft on crime." The debates have raged even in places where inmates have been released just days earlier than they ordinarily would have been.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn nearly lost a Democratic primary this month against the state comptroller, Dan Hynes, who repeatedly attacked him over a program that allowed about 1,700 inmates to get out of prison an average of 37 days early. The initiative came under fire because the state awarded "good-time credits" — which are based on behavior behind bars, rather than participation in programs — to prisoners who had spent most of their sentences in county jails, without being sufficiently monitored by the state. Quinn has called the program a "mistake," and lawmakers have hastily approved changes that would prevent similar releases from happening again.

In California, lawmakers last year approved an expansion of good-time credits that, since the law took effect in January, has allowed at least 2,000 inmates to leave prison ahead of schedule. But the law has sown confusion at the local level over whether it applies to jail inmates as well as state prisoners. Some counties have released hundreds of prisoners early, while law enforcement agencies elsewhere have sued to block the releases, which could become an issue in a governor's race expected to feature Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown.

In Michigan, Republicans are attacking a proposal by Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm to reinstate good-time credits, which lawmakers have phased out, and grant earlier releases to about 7,500 prisoners in an effort to save up to $130 million in the coming fiscal year. "We reject the idea that you can solve the budget problem by depopulating the prisons," Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop told the Detroit Free Press, calling Granholm's proposal "insanely shortsighted."

Granholm pushed back in an interview with last week, referring to the fact that Michigan is one of only a handful of states — along with Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana and Utah, according to a 2008 survey — that have no good-time credits whatsoever. She rejected the assertion that doing what most other states already do will result in a public safety threat.

"If we don't address that issue, then we're going to continue to plow taxpayer dollars into a corrections system when the states around us that have fewer prisoners and shorter lengths of stay don't have higher crime rates," Granholm, a former prosecutor and state attorney general, said.

Indeed, often lost in the debate over accelerated prison releases is that they are relatively common. Besides the 44 states that allow inmates to earn good-time credits, at least 31 also provide some form of earned-time credits for those who enroll in educational or other programs, according to a study last year by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nevada, for example, allows some inmates to reduce their time by 60, 90 or 120 days if they complete a certificate, diploma or degree while behind bars. In many other states, correctional authorities can grant "compassionate releases" to sick or dying inmates.

In 2003, lawmakers in Washington state passed a law giving some nonviolent drug and property offenders the chance to reduce their sentences by as much as 50 percent in one of the nation's most aggressive expansions of earned-time credits. A 2009 study by the independent Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that the program has resulted in lower recidivism rates among those who have been released ahead of schedule. But it also found an increase in property crimes after the change went into effect.

The institute's finding on recidivism has made Washington a model for lawmakers in other states that have sought accelerated prisoner releases, and is frequently mentioned by criminologists.

"Length of stay has nothing to do with the recidivism rate," Todd Clear, the incoming dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in New Jersey, says. "If I let someone out (early), I'm not increasing the chances of them committing a crime. I'm just changing the date."

Despite the studies, politicians and corrections officials are keenly aware that a single, well-publicized crime by an inmate who has been granted accelerated release can call entire programs into question, virtually overnight. In California, for instance, outrage over the state's good-time credits has been exacerbated by the early release of a Sacramento County inmate who was arrested in connection with an attempted rape less than 24 hours after walking free.

For that reason, Clear believes, early-release initiatives are a recipe for political disaster. "The minute you let a bunch of people out early, you own everything they do," he says — a point acknowledged by Granholm.

"I think any changes in the corrections system can certainly be exploited by political gain by those who want to do so," Granholm says. "And it's true in every state in the country." staff writer Melissa Maynard contributed to this report.

Comments (22)
22 Sunday, 04 March 2012 00:24
In Brunswick County, Virginia my husband was said to have been indicted on drug charges. They say
that the video of him was blurry but if he didn't take the plea bargain he would have served 10 years on his first offense. He has never been in any trouble with the law a day in his life. I am now struggling to take care of the children without any help from the state. Free My husband!!!!
21 Tuesday, 08 November 2011 20:43
I think that it is a great idea to have non violent prisoners released early if they maintain and complete vocational and educational requirements set forth by the state, why continue to use tax payers money on prisoners who really don't need to be behind bars for the time that their sentenced to.
20 Monday, 07 November 2011 21:37
traffic ticket
yes early release should come back! My husband is in for a traffic ticket! come on now, does he really need to be in DOC??
19 Saturday, 05 November 2011 09:06
well it all started a yr ago they came in our house and searched 2 times i thought that was wrong but they didnt find anythng . we just live work take care of our children. 2nd time they came bck in our house he had a lil bit of marijuana i think it was oz or 2 but we where not bothern no one if anythng they are bothern us no crime made . so they lock him up and they try to lock me up too just more money for them its all not fair or just. so we pay money to get us both out. they charged both of us with intent to sell and maintaining and dwelling. I have no record never ben in trouble other then speeding or seat belt . my boyfriend has a record only mistrmnrs. Anyway we hired a lawyer to so call help us since i got charges for sayn the cops there needed to help my friend that was about to pass out in the chair outside in heat and just found out he had sugar probs nd hadnt got meds rite yet for it .so i said yall cant do this its not rite he gonna sit there and pass out one officer told me if i did not shut my mouth i was giong to catch a charge too. so i said something again and that same officer said dats it u gotta charge now . anyway lawyer to get my charge dismissed he says my boyfriend has to take a charge so he plead to what the lawyer said i mean you think they are here to help us . so he gets put on probation and my stuff dismissed. well you think everything is ok but really i just recently i started reading laws and i found out that the lawyers first duties is to the court and 2nd to the public and 3rd not to the client legal encyclopedia, volume , section4. so therefor we pay theses lawyers all this money and the courts for them not to help us. so hes on probation now paying $140 mth and he had to pay taxes on what they took wich ended up being another $400 and im thinking wheres all this money go to ? ok he was the only working at this time he was working like 70 hrs a week so he went all over to work even near the beach so he figured he wud stop and see his family got a ticket so that put him there but he was wrking didnt matter to them. so they want to put a gps on his body i mean what i thought we lived in the land of the free and we have our rights so he didnt want to put gps on him so they violated him locked him up again more money to get out . the judge had told him the second time he saw him " if i see you in my courtroom again your going to prison" his words. so since he didnt put gps on his body he had a court date now in front of same judge hes gone they took him sept26 i havent been able to see him and they keep runing me around. this whole experence has been something and im still reading and learning what rights we do have. and how people can go to prisons for nonviolent crimes suck as mine has . I have came to conclusion that these greedy people are maken too much money by throwen these people in prisons. if you dont belive me look it up for your selves just put in how much state gets paid for every head in prison. you will b soo surpised just like i was. where does al that money go too sure dont go to the prisoners. they get treated like dirt. and when my baby gets out we are going to let even more no bout this. we all have to make a change or our kids are going to have nothing when they get older. i think its all bs and why charge so much for the things we need to live with when the money they give us aint even real itsa promis to pay you. and i will tell you another thing to look up zeitgeist it kinda gave me mixed emotions but all in all i think everyone shud see this .thankyou for your time kinda feels good to let all this out. have a good day im going to try to .
18 Tuesday, 20 September 2011 21:57
Lets be fair
These familys do need there loved ones home I totally agree !! the welfare system is so high I also think it would decrease if both parent were able to provide this is pertaining to non violent offenders obviosly not sex offenders nor child molesters nor murderes all the other petty stuff let them go !!!!!!!!!!!!!
17 Tuesday, 20 September 2011 21:51
I would agree to let these non violent offenders free at least with the 35 percent seems to be fair these days , the District Attorney - Judges and I am saying this from experience being I have been employed in the Districat Attorneys office I know how cricket they are they love to lock people up for simple allegations non violent , you should see these sentences that are far beyond expected were talking 6 years first offense to prison for selling a pinch of marijuana yes cricket .. I have seen the letter's from loved ones that need there loved ones out to help support there children and familys - I would say the 35% percent law would be fair to release these inmates back home to there familys to provide for them and take on the responsibility that they need to do rather than sitting free on tax payers hard working money meaning free shelter in jail-prison eating free , showering free while ther wifes are loosing there hard worked for homes for the fact she is unable to work has no child care and ect- the children need the father home the children suffer extremely while there non violent parent is in jail-prison causes problems for the confusion of the child at school a child should not go to school upset point is 35 percent law pass for these in need familys ..highly recomended
16 Monday, 25 April 2011 09:35
I live in California and my husband is in Oregon, hes done 12 out of a 13 year sentence, he was not given proper counsel at trial and because he didnt have alot of money for a attorney he was given a measure 11 sentence, ive written the govener who wrote back saying he couldnt do anything and suggested i contact the judge who sentenced him. He retired but two other judges reviewed his file and said he was not given a chance for good time.I dont get it because a man who commited murder in california just got early release for murder and the govener gave him this pardon. He has been a good inmate with no troubles, i just want him home so we can get on with our lives our first wedding anniversary is Wednesday please help
15 Saturday, 04 December 2010 11:39
Good time credits. How can inmates earn any good time credits when they are on lock down 23 hrs a day. everyday, because of race wars. Come on now people your believing things that simply are not happening in prison. at least at NDOC. HIGH DESERT STATE PRISON IN INDIAN SPRINGS NEVADA.. These programs just are not truley happening in HDSP. So what can they do the inmates can do nothing, they cant complain to the gaurds, theyre armed with real guns all day long and when you do ask a question they may or may not get an attitude and search your room anyways and make you look dumb because you want to know what day the library cart comes by so you can get a new book to read. so ya they dont even get to go to the library. There is almost no hope to get the political prison system to rehabliate these inmates because they dont want too for a 2nd chance at life most of these inmates never had a fair shot at life in the first place, and thats what is unfair for these people they need NA and AA every day and night of the week in prison at every prison. now why is that not happening just because the prison system makes more money than any other agency imaginable that doesnt mean that they still wouldnt make the money if the offered any kind of programs. you want to save your self from prison dont go. or if you do you better start creating something real good in there to make the time go by fast or change the world type thing. Or it will be long and dreadful and if you dont have money then you suffer. the only chance they have in there is US people out here can fight for them or nothing happensfor them. and when someone is in jail. one letter is a life changing thing for them they read that letter everyday until they get out. if they do. $20 means the world to someone in jail or prison. those people you help when there down remember that and love you forever for it. Micheal Jacson. Ya i spelled it wrong. LOVE d the WHOLW world he made a song with prisoners and in many countrys and a video. do me a favor and if you do nothing today do this one thing for your loved one that not here with you right now. you tube.MJ has been telling us since he went solo. his lyrics are real and simple and LOVE will conquor all and you know that it is true. "THEY DONT REALLY CARE ABOUT US " listen too it 100 times if you have to.he is as real as it gets. and No he is never dead... take care people and love your incarcerated friends, lovers and family. fight for them they have only you.
14 Thursday, 02 December 2010 14:50
My friend is in WA state prison. He was sentanced to 6 years for drug dealing and stealing a car. He has had four years good time. Is there anything he can do to be released early?
13 Thursday, 02 December 2010 10:07
May Anderson
I feel the program for early release should be kept in place. Yes i do feel that people need a second chance, Many people make mistakes or they are caught with the wrong people.
But don't judge every inmate for one inmates mistake. I have 4 brothers all of them are in prison none are charged with seriouse crimes but because of their records and their last names they are judged.
Florida prisons are over welmingly over crowded they have inmates sleeping on Floors and not enough food to feed them they might get two meals aday. and the guards are treating them like dogs, some guards abuse them and some are pretty good but Inmates no matter the crime are human and deserve a second chance.
We all fail some where in our lives it may not be by breaking the law but by failing the LORD and one day we will all be judged but GOD does not treat us as animals.
This economy is in bad shape and people are having to go on welfare to live while their spouse is in prison for a mistake and the GOV is making it harder to get help through welfare but when and if the State gets a chance to step in a take a child because of financial hardship our as they put it neglect then again comes more bills for the GOV if an inmate is no problem or not a threat then why not reword him with early release don't take that away give them a chance they are not animals they are human.
12 Saturday, 20 November 2010 17:55
If society is threatened by the early release of its incarcerated, perhaps they should be proactive about the prison "factories" and what they produce and release. Everything that is positive and pro-reform in prisons has been cut. How about concentrating a shorter sentence with increased therapy, reform and treatment so that those released can be successful. It seems to me that the public may just wish to throw all who have made a mistake into a "collective cage" to await euthanization. Not everyone in prison is a Ted Bundy or John W. Gacy. Some have specific issues that are fixable.

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11 Tuesday, 16 November 2010 04:32
Pray for early release for all who deserve it
I am not saying our prisions are full of good people. But there are a lot of good people in there. We all make bad split second disisions every day, some people are just lucky enough no one was hurt in the split second. I think each inmate should be looked at individually, there support systems, there actions in prision, and go through psyc evals. But why not give people a 2nd chance, We all make mistakes and if we are truely sorry for what you did and are not blaming the world but understand it was something that they did wronge then for those inmates give them a chance. My little brother has never gotten into trouble with the law before. Rarely got in trouble at school, home etc even in prision. He has missed alot of life changeing events with our families and has truley paid the price for what he has done. He understands and regrates the mistake that put him there. I pray and hope he is elegible for the early release program. I hope everyone in his situation ( who have never been in trouble and understand the mistake that was made) get out on this program. I never understood how people could get into the situations they get into but all it takes is 60 seconds or less. EVERYONE deserves a 2nd chance. People need to put there predjuces about prisioners aside and truly put themselves in that situation.
10 Saturday, 06 November 2010 19:26
ashley dennis
i think it is a wonderful idea that we are taking a second look at the time all these prisoners are serving,i think over 5 years is plenty enough time to reabilitate someone and make them learn there lesson and most of these people are spending the rest of theyre life incarcerated without even the chance to prove thay can do right in this world
9 Friday, 08 October 2010 18:43
Deborah J. Brown
This is about the stupidest "money saving" idea ever! Releasing convicts into society at a time when, due to government cut-backs, police protection has been downsized. What is most disturbing is that according to this article there is a legal loophole that could allow violent criminals to be released. When you consider that there are most likely quite a few sociopaths in prison who are best known for their mild mannered manipulation and charm you can be sure they'll be among those who will be released early. That's scary - everyone knows that sociopaths may appear to be non-violent and well behaved but they are deceptive and commonly commit very heinous and violent crimes - let's not forget what a nice guy Ted Bundy seemed to be!

Okay, so it's supposed to save money releasing hundreds and maybe thousands of prisoners into into a jobless society. It doesn't matter how much education a convict acquires in prison, they don't stand a chance at finding work among the millions of unemployed also struggling to find work. Early release into a jobless society is begging for trouble. Would any of our "brilliant" legislators care to venture a guess as to what these convicts will do for income when they can't find a job?

In a jobless society an early released convict has very little chance to become gainfully employed and without income the convict will likely become a repeat offender. Would any of our "brilliant" legislators like to calculate the amount of savings we'll see for a released prisoner who re-offends? What is the actual amount of savings the government expects to see after paying for a new trial, providing a public defender, covering costs associated with a new victim/s losses - whatever those expenses may be and the cost to re-incarcerate the released convict? Something tells me that half way through that calculation we'll be in the red.
8 Monday, 06 September 2010 16:00
yes i do think they realease nonviolent offenders go early when they have struggling spouses n actually lock up violent offenders
7 Monday, 09 August 2010 19:29
Alma McCormick
This is the most stupid law that was ever put on the table. Many prisoners are inside for crimes of addiction. This is not a criminal act, but a health issue. When they do finally get out, they are labeled for their entire life as a felon even after they have paid the price. No wonder so many return as a last resort. They need to be trained to meet life's challenges before and during rehab. It is almost impossible for the average Joe to get a job during this recession, imagine if you had such a strike against. you. My son is getting 25 years at a 45% sentence in this small town in McMinnville, Tennessee. His option is to take this plea or they will send him to Federal Prison where his time could be life. His crime for drugs was almost entirely based on co-defendents turning evidence to get their sentence shortened. This is wrong...Early release after they have had a chance at rehabilition and work programs being offered in the communities for the purpose to help them become prosperous citizens. Instead the family is left to weather the storm and little children grow up without their moms and dad in this case. The system is broken.
6 Saturday, 24 July 2010 16:45
Why was the ED removed? My understanding is that the problems were not in those that were on home monitoring, but in those thta were just released early. There is someone I know who has never been in trouble before and is doing time for bouncing two checks because the judge stated she should have known better and wanted to make an example of her. Tell me that is not crap! She has a spotless record and was sent to IDOC. There are many women who are in the work release program that really don't need to be there and could be home on electronic monitoring re-establishing their futures. I think the state needs to take a long look at these women and re-evaluate who should be in the system and who should be home. I noticed they have done an early release the week of july 19th 2010, does that mean there is hope?
5 Friday, 28 May 2010 07:57
Quinn made a mess on this early release program.My husband got out on early release and ever since it's been a nightmare.He was in for driving on revoked.He spent 9 months in county,then went to Stateville for 2 weeks.They let him out and we didn't know why?He got out in Oct. on home montering and Feb 6 got rearressted on violating parole,which they lied about everything.Went back to Stateville for 1 month and then on to Vienna..On March 25th he went before the PRB and was released immediatly.His parole is up Aug 12th.He know is on intense parole.He has to report 2 times a week and can't work.I am on disability and can't work.There is alot more to this story but he never violated Parole.We are going to loose evrything and this whole ordeal has been a nightmare.He did his time and we keep going back to square 1.Don't have money for a lawyer,doe's any know who we can contact to help us so he can get off this intense parole so he can work?Thank's 01patti
4 Saturday, 24 April 2010 23:28
Cynthia Gilbert
What really determines if a crime is violent or non-violent. My husband is in prison for vehicular assault. There were no alcohol or drug charges related to the assault. Only a faulty pick up that accidently hit a teacher on a bicycle. However, he is now branded as a violent offender. Nobody could ever know how ironic it is for that title to be attached to my husband's character. As he is the most non-violent person I have ever met. Also he goes out of his way to help anyone that may need it at anytime.

While doing his time in prison, he has been involved in the grant called "right living community" that was given to a Washington State prison system. Supposedely the basis of the program is to give the inmate the sense of responsibility for their own actions. Even though credit is given to inmates that go behind each others backs to tattle to the upper structure administrators. This sounds more like kindergarten and everything that is already wrong with society in general. Instead of wasting precious time participating in this ridiculous experiment, he needs to be released early to start living "right living" with the family that he loves and misses.
3 Friday, 02 April 2010 18:38
Penny Avery
I feel that they shuld reinstate the good time.My husband is very sorry for what he did ,he made a bad judgement call.He is paying the price now. It is hard with just one income to make ends meet.He doesnt use drugs or drink.Is trying to take care of his family.He needs to be home doing that.Thank you,Penny
2 Saturday, 27 March 2010 10:40
mahagony gadson
I feel in many ways the world and its recession could be helped by allowing the non-violent inmates out of jail. Most of them have families that are struggling to make it thru the recession and care for love ones that are incarcerated for a long time and have a long time to go while violent criminals are walking around committing more serious crimes. To be honest I feel a lot of them have served they time and should be allowed re-entry into society so we can stop constant cause of single parent homes. My daughter needs her dad , I need him also so I can finish school without worrying about how to work and better my chances in Americas rat race . Also my teenager needs a positive man figure around to enforce positive behavior in him.
1 Saturday, 27 March 2010 00:14
Pam Sweeney
For some of the prisoners it could be the 1st time they made a mistake. (bad judgement) and wished they could take it back. My husband did just that and he is very sorry for his stupidity and he is paying the price. I also am paying the price I now only have one income and have lost my job in the mean time. I have had my home for 14 years and am trying to keep it while he is in Jacksonville Ill and trying to help support him while he is there and other friends that have lost their jobs and need help due to the economy. My husband (Pete) could be here helping me pay the bills before I lose everything we own and worked hard for. His so called friend talked him into it making it to good to be true. With the economy the way it is he took the chance just to make ends me. Now a man that made a rash decision that ended him there is very much needed here to get our lives back to where we were. We are law abiding citizens and he would have never done what he did. Pete doesn't even use drugs, he is a very good man. I think early release could be something that should be considered.
He is very sorry for what he has done. There are some inmates that could be in the same situation as Pete and need that second chance. Thank You, Pam
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