Most governors would barely blink at the news that the cost of incarceration is spiraling out of control, despite hard budget constraints. The politics are too dicey. But not the governor of Indiana:
Indiana’s prison population has spiked in recent years, and state officials realized that they were going to have to spend about $1 billion in new prisons over the next 7 years to fit all the prisoners in the state prison system. In response, Governor Daniels announced a plan to study the State’s sentencing laws, together with two non-profit groups, the Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, to see if the state’s criminal sentences had become too punitive. The groups published their report, which found that the drug laws had become too draconian and “one size fits all,” and that there wasn’t enough support for susbtance abuse treatment. The report recommended less punitive and more nuanced sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses as well as better substance abuse counseling as a way to lessen the prison population and avoid having to build new prisons. Last week, Daniels endorsed the report. Now the attention will turn to translating the report’s recommendations to statutory language, and Daniels will then have to get those recommendations through the state legislature.
Waste is waste is waste. Just as teachers unions opportunistically advance ideas that serve their interests and not those of the public (the push for shrinking class sizes despite evidence that doing so dilutes the teacher talent pool is a great example), the correctional unions have been pushing for mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws for years. It’s not a contradiction to get tough on crime and to get smart about how taxpayer dollars are being spent.