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June 17, 1990     Arkansas Catholic
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June 17, 1990

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PAGE 13 ARKANSAS CATHOLIC JUNE 17, 1990 Sentencing Our Way Out: it's finished than when it started. And compensate victims for harm done. was deemed to be a hot issue, called the crowded prisons of Texas needed* Non-prison sanctions can be imple- for abandonment of the Sentencing 20,000 new beds by early 1989. mented without compromising public Guidelines Commission, more prison Over all, the U.S. approached the safety, sentences, longer prison terms, and 1990s with 37 states under court orders In the development of alternatives to double-ceiling of prisoners to provide to alleviate the crowding in their pris- incarceration, private not-for-profit the needed space. Bills to accomplish ons sytems, agencies have worked closely with gov- this were introduced, but were turned Criminal justice observers were noternment authorities in program design aside by the legislature. It is expected surprised that the nation's "lock "em and implementation, that similar legislation will be brought up philosophy expanded faster than A pioneer in this work, the Vera forward in file 1990 session. crime itself. From 1970-87, the rate of Institute of Justice of New York City, is Concerned Minnesota citizens are serious crime increased 39 percent, but currently piloting a day-fine program, learning that it is important to continue the prison population continued to a sanction widely used in Sweden, to educate the public about Ihe correc- grow and, from 1970-89, it increased England, and W. Germany. In the pro- titus system, even when there is no 250 percent, gram, the fine is based both on thecontroversy or apparent cause for seriousness of the offense and on the anxiety. A lack of public knowledge Costly Consequences ability of the offender to pay. Thus, both provides fertile ground for political Predictably, the increase in punish- affluent and poor offenders receivedemagoguery. Without an informed ment has been expensive. More than equal punishment for equal crimes, public, any state may be drawn into the 40,000 beds have been added to the though the dollar amount of their fines quicksand of longer sentences, more may differ, prisons, and less money to spend on prevention programs. Safety In Sentencing Minnesota is now one of five states in 0 lit was readily recognized that this P [ esiswas at least as political as govem- Ig . l aental - and that it seemed to play one ~ r [ Onstttutional issue off against another 'J ]'hut the comments on crime echoed ty ]lhe fears of many. These fears, coupled i ith the get-tough attitudes of the eagan era, rom ted voters to ur e I"telr governments, local, state, and 1! ] tleral, to become more aggressive in ; ] prehending and punishing offenders, nation's incarceration system since 1978. The cost: $20 billion for construe- drill The Passion to Punish tion plus $8 billion in operating ex- s' ].Public figures have rushed to get in pense. I%t of the crowd and add their voices It is estimated that the cost of build- the call for crackdowns, to demanding a medium-security prison ranges h i ore frequent and restrictive punish- from $82,247 to,$88,348 per bed. [l ents. Through the 1980 s, the annual budg- d governments, generally, have ::1 ken action. Imprisonment has been most concrete expression of their f ets for prison construction in 44 states increased from $.06 billion to $2.8 billion, a 46 fold increase. And in the two years 1988 and 1989, the construc- tion bill was $5.5billion for the states and another $3.5 billion for counties. In 1988, the largest increase in state spending was for prisons, up by 14.2 percent over the year before. Across the nation, costs of imprison- ment and the need to ease overcrowd- ing are forcing the exploration of more creative approaches to sentencing. Viable Alternatives Community-based alternatives to incarceration are being developed and applied in many jurisdictions. They are built on several assumptions: f t t" * Incarceration is not the only way to administer punishment. * Non-prison sentences are much less costly than incarceration. * Placing corrections facilities in s ;POnse. Stories of massive spending community settings (rather than as t the media. Florida must have acom- remote and monolithic prisons) pro- tlations for 40,000 more inmates. In vides greater opportunity to maintain ], tth Carolina, orisons were at triple ties with families and other supportive ~1' . ". . . ! elf design capacity. Mtchlgan has had people. [i rison-building program in progress * With non-prison sanctions such as nearly a decade - and conditions victim restitution and community serv- eXpected to be more crowded when ice, offenders can be sentenced to Does the low incarceration rate en- courage crime or endanger the public? Apparently not. Minnesota ranked 31st in overall crime rate in 1988, and 37th in violent crime, down from 35th the year before. On the other hand, Ne- vada, the state with the highest incar- ceration rate, imprisons seven times as many people, for the size of its popula- tion, as Minnesota. Yet Nevada's rate of violent crime is seventh in the nation. Minnesota's experience supports the position of many researchers in crimi- nal justice that prisons are not effective as incapacitation for violent offenders. And when imprisonment is needed to protect society, Minnesota sentencing guidelines are highly restrictive. Creating Alternatives A heavy reliance on non-prison sen- tences for non-violent offenders has prompted the creation of a wide vari- ety of alternative sanctions. They in- clude probation, fines, restitution to victims, community work service, work release, assignment to half-way houses, and home confinement with elcctronic monitoring. Alternative sentences may be imposed by the courts with or with- out other penalties. Probation may continue beyond the completion of other sentence components. In addi- tion, the courts may require treaunent (for chemical dependency, domestic abuse, and sex offenses), employment training, and education as a condition of the sentence. Trouble In Paradise Research has yet to identify a perfect criminal justice system. But compared with most states, Minnesota's has proved to be both effective and highly cost- efficient. That has not, however, made it immune to the zeal to incarcerate that has infected much of the nation. The state is now working through a crisis of confidence. Last year a few legislators, seeking leadership of what the Union that have not faced court action for crowding or unconstitutional conditions. However, many counties are struggling with jail populations which exceed intended capacity. Even though Minnesota has an impressive array of alternative sanctions available, addi- tional options, such as a day fine pro- gram, would fill existing gaps. And there is an urgent need to apply all programs more broadly. More low-security residential pro- grams and other options are needed to handle the large number of DWI of- fenders presently lodged in expensive, high-security facilities. It is extremely difficult to fight the not-in-my backyard resistance to such programs in any community. And the whole concept of community-based corrections is threat- ened by the unwillingness of communi- ties to accept responsibility for their erring members. Kay Pranis is the Research Director and James Read is the Public Information Direc- tor for the Minnesota Citizens Council on Crime and Justice. Reprinted from "Blue- print for Social Justice," Vol. XLIII, # 7, March 1990, Loyola University.) - Not getting your ARKANSAS CATHOLIC? - Still getting It late? Drop us a postcard & ".all your local postofflce.