Washington Post editorial h/t to Doc Berman for this great catch.
TWO REPORTS by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics show that the rate of growth in the prison and jail populations of the United States has slowed slightly but that the country still has the dubious distinction of being the largest jailer in the world. As of June 30, 2007, the country held roughly 2.3 million people behind bars, either in local or state jails or in federal prisons.
The cost of housing and caring for inmates has been astronomical, an estimated $55 billion annual expense for taxpayers, according to the Pew Center on the States. The bloated number of inmates has been particularly painful for states, some of which have been forced to cut spending for higher education to fund corrections programs. As a result, California is considering an overhaul of its prison policies, as are Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island and South Carolina.
This fiscal crisis should be a wake-up call for all states. Tough sentences for murder, rape and the like are unquestionably necessary and contributed to a drop in such crimes over the past two decades. But prisons should be focused on holding the most dangerous criminals rather than on warehousing nonviolent, first-time offenders.