Opinion

The Prison Boom Rolls On

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The Sept. 27 news story "Influx of U.S. Inmates Slowing, Census Says" gave the impression that the nation's prison boom is over. Not so. The growth rate has eased from the stratospheric levels of the 1990s, but it's already on the way up again.

In February, the Pew Charitable Trusts released a report projecting an increase of 192,000 prison inmates by 2011 and up to an additional $27.5 billion in spending, over and above the $61 billion a year we already spend on corrections.

Some states are working to contain the rising numbers and costs. Texas and Kansas, for example, moved this year to ensure they have enough cells for violent and chronic criminals, while building stronger community corrections programs aimed at low-level offenders. Alabama is tackling crowding with new sentencing standards and drug courts designed to break the cycle of crime and addiction.

Nationally, the incarceration rate is likely to keep growing. But increasing numbers of state leaders are forging bipartisan consensus around cost-effective ways of managing prison growth -- approaches that protect the public and hold offenders accountable while providing a better return on taxpayers' investments.

Adam Gelb
Director, Public Safety Performance Project