sensible sentencing/ june 24 letters to NYT editor

June 24, 2012 Letters to the Editor from the NYTimes

Alternatives to Long Prison Terms

To the Editor:

I applaud your June 15 editorial “Sensible Sentences for Nonviolent Offenders.” It highlighted a new Pew Center on the States study revealing the sharp growth in sentence lengths for nonviolent offenders over the last two decades and their failure to produce commensurate public safety benefits.

As a taxpayers’ advocate and a signer of the Statement of Principles issued by Right on Crime, a conservative project to reduce both crime and costs to taxpayers, I urge policy makers to consider these findings.

Fortunately, in states such as Texas, lawmakers began emphasizing alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders back in 2005 and have saved billions while achieving the state’s lowest crime rate since 1973.

As the editorial notes, efforts in states across the country to create a more cost-effective corrections system are unlocking bipartisan cooperation, and Right on Crime and I look forward to continuing to be part of the solution.

GROVER NORQUIST
President, Americans for Tax Reform
Washington, June 20, 2012

To the Editor:

Indeed, the time is ripe as never before on the issue of reducing incarceration rates while preserving public safety. A critical part of this is the smart use of alternatives to incarceration and re-entry programs for people convicted of nonviolent crimes.

New York, home to one of the most robust networks of such programs, has seen its incarcerated population decrease by more than 12,000 since 1999.

As a result, among the 10 most populous states — including Texas, which is reforming its system — New York had the lowest incarceration rate and the lowest crime rate in 2010, according to the Pew Center on the States (“Prison Count 2010”).

It’s taken decades, but our criminal justice system is finally realizing that “tough on crime” methods are just not as effective as diverting appropriate people to community programs and helping those returning from incarceration to become productive members of society.

By doing this, alternatives to incarceration/re-entry programs like those in New York keep communities safer while easing the burden on taxpayers.

TRACIE GARDNER
Director, New York State Policy
Legal Action Center
New York, June 15, 2012

To the Editor:

It’s commendable that states are working across party lines to reduce prison overcrowding, but the United States still imprisons more people per capita than any other nation.

We see daily examples of this in the South. Alabama has one of the nation’s most overcrowded prison systems, with nonviolent offenders making up the majority of the inmate population. Louisiana imprisons one in every 86 adults — more people per capita than any other state.

Overcrowded prisons are costly in both human and dollar terms. Staff turnover is high, and training new employees is expensive, as is overtime. Overcrowded prisons are also plagued with diseases that put public health at risk.

States can decrease prison populations and save taxpayer dollars by exploring alternative programs and shorter sentences. Evidence shows they can do this without risking public safety.

We must reform the sentencing policies that have led to this mass incarceration epidemic.

MARY BAUER
Legal Director
Southern Poverty Law Center
Montgomery, Ala., June 19, 2012

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