07/13/2009 - Cash-strapped states are increasingly turning to alternative sentencing methods and to streamlined probation and parole as a way to keep low-level offenders out of prison and in their communities.
The alternative sentencing methods have been in limited use for years, often with little funding and less publicity. But recently they have gained in popularity across the country and have attracted interest from lawmakers. The measures include drug courts, which allow low-level drug offenders to avoid prison time through treatment and intense, personal, weekly intervention by a judge, and at least 500 courts for people arrested for driving while intoxicated. Drivers avoid jail by attending regular alcohol-treatment classes and by submitting to random tests.
These trends are showing up almost everywhere as a direct response to governors and state legislatures looking with alarm at prison costs eating up increasing shares of their budgets. According to Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project for the Pew Center on the States, more than half the states and the District are trying to reduce the growth in their prison populations through alternative sentencing and through new probation and parole procedures.
"The economy is bringing a lot of states to the table," Gelb said, "and the research has pointed to a path for them to more public safety at less cost."
Read the full article States Seek Less Costly Substitutes For Prison on The Washington Post's Web site.