Dear Super Committee members,
We appreciate your service to the country. Coming up with ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings by Thanksgiving is an ambitious goal. Bet you could use some suggestions.
Here's one: Instead of cutting services for women and children, for seniors and the poor, for education spending, how about cutting back on prison spending?
After all, the federal government and states spend $70 billion each year on corrections spending. The federal Bureau of Prisons alone is budgeted to spend $6.8 billion in each of the next two fiscal years -- a 10 percent increase over the last fiscal year.
In fact, federal spending increases on corrections are only outpaced by spending increases on Medicare. And the pace is unlikely to slow without sentencing reform. Attorney General Eric Holder predicts the federal prison population to increase by 11,000 this year. Rather than pursuing reform, however, the AG seems intent on filling prison beds. Increased prosecution of state-compliant medical marijuana providers is just one example.
But there's good news. And it's found in the ACLU's recently released report, Smart Reform Is Possible: States Reducing Incarceration Rates and Costs While Protecting Communities.
Mississippi did it, and no one would ever call that state soft on crime. In 2008 the state partially repealed its truth-in-sentencing law, expanded parole eligibility for non-violent offenses and also expanded earned time credits for prisoners. The result: a projected savings of almost half a billion dollars and a prison population decrease of about 22 percent.
And lest you think the change has led to rampant crime in Mississippi, the state's crime rate is its lowest since 1984.
Texas, Kansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio have seen similar results.
If money isn't enough motivation for you, then consider this: 1 in 31 adults in the United States is in prison, on parole or on probation. One in 99 is behind bars. And those people disproportionally come from communities of color.
It's time for common sense. It's time to end our addiction to overincarceration.
Super Committee members, please start there.