Best of #StateReads: What Happens When 700,000 Prisoners a Year Return Home?

  • May 23, 2012
  • By Daniel C. Vock

This week's collection of #StateReads covers the influx of prisoners returning to their communities, an approach used by eight states to fund private schools using public money and the “fair-weather federalism” of leading presidential candidates.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to dvock@stateline.org.

“US prison inmates returning to society: How will they be received?” — The Christian Science Monitor

U.S. prisons are releasing an all-time high of about 700,000 prisoners a year, at the same time that states cope with budget crunches and changing views on get-tough policies. But the communities receiving the ex-cons may not be able to handle them. “The result is an unprecedented test,” writes Sean J. Miller (@sjlmiller), “of authorities' ability to monitor the newly released prisoners, of social service groups' capacity to help them forge new lives, of the inmates' willingness to start over, of communities' tolerance to let them do so.”

“Public money finds back door to private schools” — The New York Times 

School choice advocates increasingly are pushing an alternative to vouchers to fund private schools with public money, writes Stephanie Saul. Although the systems vary among states, they generally give corporations (and often parents) a tax credit for donating to a nonprofit organization, which then provides scholarships to students to attend private schools. “While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools,” Saul writes, “the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism, interviews and documents show.”

“Obama, Romney use states' rights as they see fit” — The Washington Times 

On the campaign trail, both President Obama and Mitt Romney say they would leave key decisions to the states. But both practice “fair-weather federalism,” writes Seth McLaughlin (@SethMcLaughlin1). Obama says states ought to decide whether to allow same-sex marriages, but his administration challenged states' rights to write tough anti-immigrant laws, relaxed medical marijuana policies and stricter voter identification measures. Romney, on the other hand, regularly invokes the 10th Amendment when talking about health care but says the federal government should preempt state standards for jury awards, McLaughlin says.

“Environmental inspections drop in Walker's first year” — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

The number of inspections by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources dropped significantly since Scott Walker became governor, reports Lee Bergquist (@LeeBergquist). Inspections of large farms fell by nearly half, and check-ups on private wells declined by more than a third. Environmentalists questioned whether the Republican governor was backing away from enforcing clean air and water laws, but the agency claims the drop occurred because the agency had too few employees at the tumultuous beginning of Walker's term.

“New Jersey guts lead-abatement programs” — The Star-Ledger 

Lead abatement programs in New Jersey may become the victim of their own success – and of austere budget conditions, according to Salvador Rizzo (@RizzoSL). Under Republican Governor Chris Christie's budget blueprint, funding for the state's chief lead abatement effort would drop from $9.5 million last year to $198,000 next year. State officials say lead poisoning is not nearly the threat in New Jersey that it was a few years ago; since 2001, cases of children with lead poisoning dropped by half. But advocates say there are still many more properties that have been identified with problems that still need the state's help.

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