published Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Freeing inmates eyed as cost-saving step


by Jacqueline Koch

FELONY PENALTIES

* Class C felonies — three-to-15-year prison term

* Class D felonies — two-to-12-year prison term

* Class E felonies — one-to-six-year prison term

Source: Tennessee code

INMATES BY THE NUMBERS

* 5,398 — Inmates locally sentenced in county/local jails

* 2,465 — Inmates held in county/local jails as TDOC back-up

* 19,462 — Inmates in TDOC prisons

* 11,139 — People on parole through community supervision

* 48,924 — People on probation through community supervision

Source: Tennessee Department of Correction

The Tennessee Department of Correction could release inmates early to trim millions of dollars from its budget, but officials hope the state can find money elsewhere.

That’s a sentiment shared by local law enforcement agencies and community groups.

“If we had to release people earlier than they need to be released, especially without some of the programs (they) get in prison, it could have an impact on public safety,” said TDOC spokeswoman Dorinda Carter. “We’re hoping we don’t have to go this route.”

She said the department could release nonviolent offenders with a Class C property crime felony, generally involving drug deals or robbery. Inmates booked on charges of Class D or E felonies also may be eligible, she said.

Gov. Phil Bredesen asked agencies in Tennessee to find ways to cut as much as 9 percent from their budgets. That comes to about $53 million for the Department of Correction, whose total budget is about $590 million.

Releasing about 3,300 state prisoners held in local jails would save about $40 a day that TDOC pays to house the inmates. Most of those could be in a state facility but there is no available space for them.

During state budget hearings, TDOC Commissioner George Little said another option would be to close one or two of the state’s prisons, releasing about 4,000 felons. There now are 14 state prisons.

The department sees no other feasible plan to cut costs, especially because 400 job positions remain vacant, Ms. Carter said.

“I think we’ve cut just about everywhere we could cut,” she said. “We’re down to the bone.”

Decisions have not been made about which jails would release the inmates, Ms. Carter said.

The governor has said he will try to avoid major cuts to prison funds. He is expected to present his 2011 budget proposal early next year, so no decision will be made until then at the earliest.

But when it comes to releasing nonviolent prisoners, Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble questioned the meaning of “nonviolent” and worried the move would put public safety at risk.

“I don’t think people need to be fooled by these violent and nonviolent categories,” Sheriff Gobble said. “All criminals are potentially violent. And just because somebody hasn’t raped, murdered or assaulted somebody doesn’t mean we need to be careless and let them out of prison before they serve their full sentences under the law.”

About 150 of the 3,300 inmates proposed for release would return to Chattanooga, estimated Tim Dempsey, executive director of Chattanooga Endeavors, a charitable organization dedicated to helping offenders restore ties to their communities.

Chattanooga, like many communities, lacks the resources and funding to support former inmates by finding them jobs and places to live, Mr. Dempsey said. Without that stability, former inmates are more likely to reoffend and wind up back in prison, he said.

“I think the community needs to be able to deal with the people as they’re coming out,” he said. “It’s not fair for anybody — not for the nonprofits, the community, the citizens in those communities — for people to just be unloaded on them.”

Marion County Sheriff Ronnie “Bo” Burnett said the facility there regularly houses state inmates, and releasing them would free up bed space for county inmates with shorter sentences. But Sheriff Burnett does not support the proposal.

“We deal with a lot of repeat offenders, and they’re just going to be right back out in the community causing problems, dealing drugs, stealing things,” he said.

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Salsa said...

Freeing inmates will cost us far more in the long run. They'll get out early and commit hundreds or even thousands more crimes. Ask the people up in the state of Washington how they feel about early release prisoner right now.

December 1, 2009 at 3:32 p.m.
harrystatel said...

Before you release those convicted of violent crimes, including rape, murder, pedophilia, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, and arson, give Mike Huckabee a call.

December 1, 2009 at 3:54 p.m.
Exusiai said...

Better idea, Inmates who have been convicted of violent crimes making then eligible for Death Penalty.

KILL THEM. Gas or Electric, send them today.

Next, Stop buying them newspapers. Inmates at Silverdale get a paper Delivered to them Every Morning. 1 Per Dorm. thats a good chunck of money a year I'm sure.

I understand that psychologists say that to cut the inamtes off from the outside world is cruel and inhumane, but you know what Television is a Luxury that I as a Law Abiding Citizen have to pay for, so why do Inmates get access to watch TV for Free?

In my humble Opinion, all an Imate should get are three hots and a cot. Thats it. I'm sure if we returned to that Inmate housing costs would go down, also those who have been Sentanced to Death, if we kill em, we don't have to pay to house them, Again cost cutting At its finest,

December 1, 2009 at 4:40 p.m.
SeaSmokie59er said...

What will it be; higher taxes and safer streets or lower taxes and a limited amount of jail cells. The logical solution, which cost more, would be to offer job skills training and effective rehabilitation (yeah right). Or, the easy way, we could all go out and by more guns.

December 1, 2009 at 4:44 p.m.
chuckndi said...

Seriously! So many cutbacks could be made that would make sooo much more sense than putting these criminals back on the street! STOP CODDLING THOSE THAT KILL, ROB, RAPE AND RUIN OUR SOCIETY!!! Most people have no idea how many luxuries these prisoners have!

Hey! East Ridge could be a great help! They could forego the million dollar interstate 'waterfall'....not spend untold amounts on traffic camera's to enforce the 35 MILE AN HOUR speed trap; stop paying the city attorney more than the murderer's (that are about to be released)attorneys are paid; etc. Put that money toward punishing these predators and we could set a great example for cities across the state!

December 1, 2009 at 8:12 p.m.
Tax_Payer said...

It looks like we are going back to colonial times when did not have jails and prison. A criminal can steal what ever he or she got her hands on with very little punishment. It's too bad we don't have public punishment these days, because it will get far worse not being able to deter crime.

First chance I get, I will move out of Tennessee!

December 1, 2009 at 9:59 p.m.
Lightnup said...

harrystatel wrote: "Before you release those convicted of violent crimes, including rape, murder, pedophilia, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, and arson, give Mike Huckabee a call."

If you are implying that Governor Huckabee released Maurice Clemmons, you need to get your facts straight before making dumb statements.

December 1, 2009 at 10:50 p.m.
tdempsey said...

My gracious! These are just the sort of uninformed, unthoughtful, un-American sentiments that launched our nation's "nothing works" war on crime and got us in this mess in the first place.

With just 5% of the world's population, the United State now locks up 25% of the world's prisoners...and benefits from no real advantage in crime rates as a result. The costs are crippling and we just start noticing this when money runs short with the state and our law-makers are face with extremely tough decisions.

I am in favor of a smaller prison population and a wider base of alternatives in the community. But the prospect of letting people out early during the worst economy we have seen since the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate of parolees is estimated to be over 30%, and with no proposed investment in organizations like Chattanooga Endeavors which communities have created to help, is just making a bad situation worse. There may be no alternative -- in which case, Chattanooga Endeavors and our partners will do what we can to meet the needs of a larger number of unemployed offenders in the community.

I appreciate the concern for public safety expressed here by readers, but the details don't jive with reality and don't help the public debate.

December 2, 2009 at 8:19 a.m.
HBrell said...

Thanks tdempsey for being the voice of reason. "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence, than it does knowledge..." - Charles Darwin

December 2, 2009 at 9:22 a.m.
chuckndi said...

in response to tdempsey....How considerate of you to call those with differing views un-informed, un-thoughtful and UN-AMERICAN! I can think of nothing more American than voicing our opinions! As for un-informed, as the sister of a murdered victim that has been attending parole hearings for 16 years, I would like to know how you feel you are so much more informed than everyone else? As for un-thoughtful, I believe I have had quite a long time to put thought into the subject.

My brothers murderer has had the benefit of a multitude of rehabilitation programs, psychiatrists, and many other programs. After being released on parole, he beat up a woman within a matter of weeks and tested positive for drugs....he again is back where he belongs.

I can say with all honesty that I wanted Mr. Murderer to be released and return to society and be a productive citizen (15 years of parole hearings takes it's toll). BUT THERE ARE THOSE WHO BELONG IN PRISON, No matter how much you bleeding hearts sit there and wring your hands at the wrong done to those poor, unfortunate prisoners...You will feel differently when it is your loved one you look down into the casket and see!

December 2, 2009 at 9:59 a.m.
Exusiai said...

chuckndi

See this is my sentimant exactly.

We as American citizens have the right to "Life Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"

In my opinion, If you deprive another citizen of one of these rights, then you forfit your qualifications for them. If you kill someone, then you should be killed. If you kidnap someone and hold them against their will, you should be jailed, for life. Rapists need to have their equipment removed not chemically castrated, it should be physical.

Call it an Eye for an Eye.

I'm sure it would work. Now how do we cover rising costs?

Public Exicutions on PPV. Because there are people in America who would pay 39.95 to watch something like that. Half of the money goes to housing of inmates, the other half goes to the family(or families) of that inmates victim/s.

Heck I'm up for something like th emovie Gamer. Put the inmates on death row in a huge controlled unescapable maze like arena, give them each one gun with a full clip. Last man standing gets to advance to the next round. And if you survive 30 rounds, well then you get to get free.

And of course put that on PPV as well.

Rapists need to have their equipment removed,

December 2, 2009 at 10:24 a.m.
rolando said...

Lightnup replied to harrystatel: "If you are implying that Governor Huckabee released Maurice Clemmons, you need to get your facts straight before making dumb statements."

This AP article came up after googling "Huckabee clemency", Lightnup.

"LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee had a hand pardoning or commuting many more prisoners than his three immediate predecessors combined. Maurice Clemmons, the suspect in Sunday's slaying of four Seattle-area police officers, was among them. . . . . "Clemmons was among 1,033 people who were pardoned or had their sentences reduced during Huckabee's 10 1/2 years as governor."

December 2, 2009 at 10:26 a.m.
Lightnup said...

Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence 9 years ago from 108 years to 47 years. Huckabee did not "set him free" as harrystatel implied. Subsequently, the parole board released Clemmons. Many prisoners who are eligible for parole do not actually get paroled.

It may be semantics, but in the context of a discussion of freeing prisoners to save money, the implication that Huckabee "freed" Clemmons is not accurate.

December 2, 2009 at 10:53 a.m.

Respect Di's statements and her grief, she is absolutely right on in everything she said. One of the problems this society has regarding 'treating' murderers, rapists, pedophiles, child molesters, etc. is that all the experts in the world cannot predict future behavior and potential criminal activity of released felons. It's a gamble and now, in these tough times, releasing more without careful consideration will probably be a disaster for the surrounding communities. My heart goes out to these families for what they have been through and still go through.

Exusiai's response though is reminiscent of the barbarian hordes in the ancient Colosseum-is that what you fancy yourself as-nothing but a Neanderthal or a Roman brute? Shame. What if the innocent get mixed up in the cauldron, eh? Oh, but that would be okay, no? Especially if they were just a bunch of Christians...

Better read the whole story on Huckabee, most governors given the facts years ago that he had before him, would have done the same-commuted the sentence down to 47 years from 108 years. I had to ask why 108 yrs for robbery when murderers and child rapists get light to no sentences from mostly Liberal Judges? He was only 17 at the time. Boys that age in the prison system are usually raped and brutalized, making monsters and psychopaths out of many.

Also, it was two Liberal Judges and a prosecutor who are to blame for letting Clemmons get out on bail. We have a messed up court system and judiciary while few have any answers or solutions. Clemmons had red flags all over him the whole time he was free, so where were those "experts" and what were they doing to merit their huge salaries?

December 2, 2009 at 11 a.m.
Exusiai said...

Someone serving a sentance of 108 years, should not be eligable for parole. that is a life sentance,

Again Gas or Electric, send them today

Or to the Arena. It'd be awesome to see A arena full of Criminals looking into a camera and shouting "we who are about to die salute you!"

December 2, 2009 at 11:07 a.m.

Hbrell: "Thanks tdempsey for being the voice of reason. "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence, than it does knowledge..." - Charles Darwin" Darwin should have looked in the mirror when he said that and then astro-planed to Hitler's era to see Hitler practicing many of Darwin's "theories".

tdempsey: "I appreciate the concern for public safety expressed here by readers, but the details don't jive with reality and don't help the public debate." No, I don't believe you do "appreciate the concern". Stats and details mean nothing when our country is full of predators, many of them repeat offenders. When our innocent and helpless are at risk and the Dunderheaded experts aren't doing their jobs properly, someone needs to "jive" in the other direction to get better results.

December 2, 2009 at 11:23 a.m.
Exusiai said...

canary

"Exusiai's response though is reminiscent of the barbarian hordes in the ancient Colosseum-is that what you fancy yourself as-nothing but a Neanderthal or a Roman brute? Shame. What if the innocent get mixed up in the cauldron, eh? Oh, but that would be okay, no? Especially if they were just a bunch of Christians..."

Perhaps it is, but then again it is a solution that would work. what if an innocent is mixed in? Well lets fine tune it then. As far as the "Death Penalty Arena" goes.

If you are found guilty by a jury of yoru peers, found with undeniable evidence, and witnesses, then you are eligible for the Arena/Chair/chamber.

I'm sorry I've worked as a correctional officer, and I know how much it costs (7 years ago) for the county to house an inmate. It upsets me that my tax dollars go to giving inmates luxuries that I have to pay for. It should irritate you as well. I find it funny that If I want to get a college degree I have to pay a tuition, howeve rif I'm in jail it's provided to me free of charge.

How is that penalizing criminals?

December 2, 2009 at 11:34 a.m.
HBrell said...

to chuckndi

I am sorry for what you have gone through the last 16 years and know that I can not in anyway understand your pain and frustration. Yes there are many people who should be locked away for life and I am pretty sure tdempsey agrees with that but I will let him speak for himself.

Some of the comments above are based on ignorance as to how to deal with men and women who are being released from prison. Also, there was nothing in the article or the comment posted by Mr. Dempsey that supported the early release of inmates. As a matter of fact he said;

Chattanooga, like many communities, lacks the resources and funding to support former inmates by finding them jobs and places to live, Mr. Dempsey said. Without that stability, former inmates are more likely to reoffend and wind up back in prison, he said.

“I think the community needs to be able to deal with the people as they’re coming out,” he said. “It’s not fair for anybody — not for the nonprofits, the community, the citizens in those communities — for people to just be unloaded on them.”

The tools and training that Chattanooga Endeavors offers to released inmates has been proven to reduce recidivism. The work the Mr. Dempsey and Chattanooga Endeavors does for our community only makes it better for all of us, no doubt about that!

December 2, 2009 at 11:46 a.m.
chuckndi said...

One last comment....tdempsey is the executive director of the charitable organization Chattanooga Endeavors. As the family member of a victim (thus a victim myself), I CERTAINLY appreciate the efforts of these organizations to try to rehabilitate these criminals. I am an intilligent individual who understands that some people make mistakes and want desperately to make changes in their lives.

What I don't appreciate is the EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of any organization stooping to name calling; nor his accusation that we are un-American!!!!! I am astounded at his arrogance! I am offended at the audacity to have the nerve to call me, or any of the other Great Americans writing an opinion here, UN-AMERICAN!!!!!!!

Mr. Dempsey assumes that most citizens are not aware of the many vocational training, work release, career development programs available to prisoners while incarcerated. TRICOR is just one of the programs offered to inmates to help with job training and transitional employment. TREC is another government sponsored, tax payer funded program dedicated to prisoners. These examples are just a drop in the bucket of those that are offered to inmates.

Of course, for the general public to be aware of the opportunities and services made available to inmates, it might mean less contributions to his organization. Mr Dempsey's email address at Chattanooga Endeavors is tdempsey@chattanoogaendeavors.com for anyone who wishes to let him know their thoughts on name calling.

December 2, 2009 at 12:21 p.m.
harrystatel said...

Lightnup wrote:harrystatel wrote: "Before you release those convicted of violent crimes, including rape, murder, pedophilia, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, and arson, give Mike Huckabee a call.

If you are implying that Governor Huckabee released Maurice Clemmons, you need to get your facts straight before making dumb statements."

I was stating that former governor Huckabee would not make the same decision today. His mistakes, while he believed in mercy, were to have sympathy for hardened criminals.

Just as "religion" is used as a basis for forgiveness, it's also used as a basis for punishment. Someones' religious beliefs either way do not reflect law, justice, or retribution.

What we are left with are consequences of actions. To pretend consequences don't matter is the fault of our current political system, both Democrats and Republicans (of which there's little difference).

Demopublicans( 99% of all politicians) have tried for years to ignore consequences of their actions to the detriment of society and our liberties.

Governor Huckabee is not alone is his mistakes. Whether or not he meant well doesn't matter either. Only the consequences of his actions.

And all of us are responsible for our actions. Even politicians.

December 2, 2009 at 1:08 p.m.
Abe said...

chuckndi, Mr. Dempsey didn't call you or anyone else un-American.

He said your sentiment was un-American. (In other words, not in keeping with the best of America.) Scroll back up and read what he said.

P.S. It's "forgo." You forgo luxuries. You don't "forego" them. (You give them up. You don't go before them.)

December 2, 2009 at 1:12 p.m.
harriett said...

Abe: attaboy! Way to keep 'em in line. You missed the opportunity to correct a few others in thar comments. But we'suns can always use a good English and spelling lesson, no matter how impotant the subject. It was tarribly good of you to 'splain the meaning to the dunderheads, 'cause I'm shore they wouldnt be able to figger it out on thar own! Way to contribute to the conversation!

December 2, 2009 at 2:10 p.m.
HBrell said...

"Of course, for the general public to be aware of the opportunities and services made available to inmates, it might mean less contributions to his organization." chuckndi

Funny, I always thought that Mr. Dempsey used every means possible to try and educate the general public as to what services Chattanooga Endeavors offers.

December 2, 2009 at 5:05 p.m.
dl said...

Prison should be such a horrible experience no one would ever want to go back. 1 meal a day, hard labor, no TV, books, papers, etc. As it stands what is the incentive to not want to return by committing more crimes?

December 2, 2009 at 7:11 p.m.
SeaSmokie59er said...

Lightup wrote "It may be semantics, but in the context of a discussion of freeing prisoners to save money, the implication that Huckabee "freed" Clemmons is not accurate."

"On Monday, Huckabee said he takes responsibility for making Clemmons eligible for parole in 2000, and called the case a failure of the justice systems in Arkansas and Washington." - AP

You are correct he did not release him, he just made it easier.

December 2, 2009 at 8:18 p.m.
rolando said...

dl: Sheriff Joe out in Arizona has durn few returnees; he puts them up in tents year round, they wear pink overalls and underwear, get 3 meals -- one or two cold -- work hard, etc. When they get out they leave for a sanctuary city.

December 2, 2009 at 8:50 p.m.
harriett said...

I think we all agree, this is a very serious subject. As for Mike Huckabee, at least he has taken responsibility for his actions. This is a good example. We are all now pointing the finger about who is responsible for setting criminals free that should not have been freed. Doesn't this prove the point that we all truly agree criminals should not be free to prey on us.

Like Chuckndi, I too have been a victim. I too was not happy with Mr Dempsey's comments. I totally agree that everyone without exception would feel differently when faced with a family member in a casket.

After the fiasco with ACORN, I am so much more skeptical about these 'non-profit's' and their agenda's. It is obvious from his comments that he has his own agenda. The comments from Mr. Dempsey made me scrutinize their website. I am not at all convinced from what I have read on it. There are some pretty words about how this criminal or that has gone through hell. Poor fellows. BUT THEY ARE STILL HERE TO GO THROUGH HELL.

I have been dragged kicking and screaming into the world of prisons and parole hearings. I don't want to be here. But here I am. It is an ugly place to be. What is so funny is the offender had only to say "OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE". If it were someone with any morales and soul that truly just made a mistake, that is exactly what they would have done. If it were you or I and we were faced with our victims or our victims families most of us would fall to our knees and scream to heaven. But what we get is excuses and crocodile tears. Those tears were not shed until he was caught. Once again THOSE TEARS WERE NOT SHED UNTIL HE WAS CAUGHT.

hbrell, you said, 'funny, I always thought Mr Dempsey always used every means possible to try to educate the general public as to what services Chattanooga Endeavors offers". Before now, I have never heard of Mr. Dempsey. Obviously you have, and are a supporter of his. I only know what he personally wrote in the above post, which is much more telling than the quote from a reporter who puts in an article what they choose.

From this point forward, I will continue to scrutinize the non-profit, federally funded organization. It has the potential to be a great service to our community. But don't think victims will be so swayed by the 'prisoners are victims' point of view.

December 2, 2009 at 9:07 p.m.
tdempsey said...

Well I certainly didn’t mean to slight any victim or minimize anyone’s suffering…we are all about preventing future victimization at Chattanooga Endeavors by stabilizing released prisoners and helping them become contributive members of society.

I was reacting mainly to the comments: “KILL THEM” and “by more guns.” And the connection these sort of sentiments had in the popularity of the prison-only policies of the 80’s that sent our incarcerated population soaring at a 45-degree angle, creating a behemoth in our state budget that is breaking the bank now. We can argue about whether this is a good or a bad thing…but there is no argument about how it happened.

Because our niche in the justice system focuses on offenders and providing certain assistances after prison, we easily get stereotyped as coddling prisoners (hug-a-thug). But it just ain’t so:

  1. We stand for four EQUAL legs of justice: efficient law-enforcement, impartial judicature, fair punishment and effectual rehabilitation.
  2. Our focus is inside rehabilitation where the rubber meets the road and prisoners come home.
  3. We believe prisoner reentry works best if there is a BALANCE in supervision and sanctions (on the hard side) with services and support (on the soft side).
  4. Our experience has been that crime reduction strategies are undermined if community leaders don’t give a second chance.

I wish I had caught these comments earlier because they show the valid reaction of victims and highlight the personal tragedy created in crime. I absolutely did not intend to be read as a “bleeding heart” and welcome anyone contacting me personally to learn more about our work at Chattanooga Endeavors and how our mission contributes to public safety. I can be reached at tdempsey@ceiservices.net or 423-902-6695.

December 3, 2009 at 12:37 a.m.
chuckndi said...

Mr. Dempsey, I think we have all been rather emotional. I do appreciate the work done by agencies such as yours. I ask that you be a little less condescending with your statements in the future.

There is one area where you and I disagree heartily. You say the 'prison only'policies of the '80s is what sent our budget spiraling. Could it be possible that all the perks these criminals receive in prison have a great bearing on costs? Not to mention the enormous cost for appeal after appeal after appeal....many of which are automatic.

Another point you make is we have 5% of the worlds population but house 25% of the worlds prisoners. Isn't that just a little misleading? It would be worth taking a look at those figures if you could compare apples to apples. But those figures also include countries like China that execute many offenders instead of house them. Or other third world countries that barely even have a penal system. You also state there is no real advantage in crime rate as a result (of the numbers of incarcerated). Tell us...how do you measure that? If they were to release these people, it would have no effect on the crime rate? Isn't that essentially what you are saying? Apparently we may all be about to find out when your theory is put to the test. Looks like you have your work cut out for you.

You mentioned you are in favor of a smaller prison population and a wider base of alternatives in the community. I am curious as to what those programs would be and which offenders would be in those programs and who would designate which offenders were able to to be placed in those programs. I don't have alot of faith in todays wheeling and dealing between attorney's and judges.

December 3, 2009 at 10:26 a.m.
tdempsey said...

It is an emotional subject to be sure and you raise some very good questions:

  1. The cost of incarceration is undoubtedly affected by various programs, special groups/needs accommodations and non-essential “perks” as you call them. In fact, to manage costs during the economic slowdown, TDOC has eliminated some meals, reduced milk and fruit rations, and cut back on meat in the institutional menu. They have also scaled back on programs and inmate work crews which serve the community. But this is not where the bulk of the costs are. If you really want to save money in corrections, you can’t whittle away at the individual costs, you have to shutter prisons. Tax-payers shovel out $50 million a year to keep one prison running. Over the past 17 years, the incarcerated felon population in Tennessee has increased 90% to 26,551. During this same period we added 7 prisons to the system.

  2. I agree it is frustrating (and expensive) when people that know they are guilty use the corrective process provided by the state and try to finesse their way out of prison by appeal/habeas. Although states can eliminate appeals, they are not at liberty to have no corrective process or to bias this process. However disappointing it is to watch people take advantage of this process, the provisions in our Constitution protecting our civil and political rights must be available to the guilty if we want them to be available to the innocent.

  3. More than nine out of every ten executions in the world happen in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States. China reported 1,718 last year leading the pack. And, you are right, China, not counting political prisoners, has a much lower incarceration rate than the United States (715 vs 119 per 100,000). Then again, most countries with comparable incarceration rates do not use capital punishment and those that do don’t execute at rates anywhere near China’s. For Tennessee to reduce head count in prison sufficient to take two institutions offline and impact its budget as needed, the state would have to kill about 3,000 prisoners a year. In doing so, we would not only lead the nation in executions but the entire world. (Continued)

December 5, 2009 at 3:08 p.m.
tdempsey said...
  1. It is the incarceration rate that is breaking the bank and the crime rate that we are trying to improve. The simple fact is that even with the highest incarceration rate in the world, the US consistently ends up in the top ten countries for highest crimes rates too. I am not saying that locking people up doesn’t keep them from committing crimes. That simply goes against common sense. The question is more one of balance and measure. For example, between 1991 and 1998 the incarceration rate in Texas increased 144% while its crime rate decreased by only a 35%. During the same period, New York’s crime rate declined by 43%, despite an increase of its incarceration rate of only 24%. Similar trends in other states during this same period undermine a simple correlation between incapacitation and crime.

  2. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “my theory.” I am not for the present early release consideration – I think that will do damage to public safety (as I said above and you reiterate).

  3. There is a wide range of community-base programs that work to help stabilize former offenders and assist them in becoming contributive members of society. Whatever the specifics of the programs, the most important question is whether criminal justice stakeholders collaborate on them (outside their ordinary silos) and are able to balance supervision and sanctions (on the hard side) with services and support (on the soft side). As a simple example: Tennessee prisoners with mental health histories are discharged with ten days of medication and no refill. It doesn’t take long to realize that it is in the public’s interest to schedule a mental health evaluation for these offenders before they run out of pills and decompensate creating a serious public safety concern. Unfortunately this does not happen routinely in Chattanooga. Day reporting centers have been effective in some communities, restorative justice programs have also worked well as an alternative to incarceration, so have community justice courts, drug courts and community policing programs. Obviously I think employment programs are worthwhile…and in that respect, transitional work programs are especially important. As to who gets sentenced to alternatives or who gets access to them after incarceration, I think the rule of thumb is: lock up people that are dangerous and treat those that are not in the community.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to exchange these ideas with you. I certainly appreciate your passion for the topic and your obvious concern for public safety – even if we have differing views about how to best achieve that goal. It is a complicated social problem with no straightforward solution.

December 5, 2009 at 3:09 p.m.
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