Prison crowding continues to plague most prison systems. More importantly, it is highly unlikely that the crowding problem will soon disappear. Reducing prison terms is, however, a controversial approach to curbing prison crowding. While the prison system directly benefits from lowered prison populations, there are several potential negative reactions that may result. Crime rates may increase as more prisoners are released ahead of their normal release dates. More importantly, the public may become further disenchanted with what it already perceives as an effective and overly lenient criminal justice system. In this NCCD report, a well-established early-release program, the Illinois Meritorious Good-Time program, is evaluated in terms of its impact on the following four key issues that surround all early release programs: (1) What is the impact of shorter prison terms on controlling prison population growth? (2) What is the impact of shorter prison terms on recidivism rates? (3) What is the impact of shorter prison terms on public safety? (4) What is the impact of shorter prison terms on reducing costs?
It has been well-documented that drug arrests are a major factor in increases in jail and prison populations. In light of this, there is a growing interest in treatment programs, both in and out of custody. However, there is a debate regarding the effectiveness of drug treatment programs in reducing recidivism and drug use. The question of whether jail drug treatment is a cost-effective investment depends in part on the results achieved by the program, whether through reduced recidivism or lowered in-custody incident rates. If recidivism is lower for participants than for comparable nonparticipants, then we can assume that the higher "costs" of these programs are offset by tangible savings to the criminal justice system and by less tangible, but significant savings to the community.
America appears to be in the midst of a crisis of violence among the nation's youth that requires the urgent implementation of policies incarcerating increasing numbers of our young people. However, the facts suggest otherwise. Actually, incarceration rates reflect policy choices and are not driven by public safety needs. Public policy needs to be redirected toward implementing strategies that will be successful both in the fight against crime as well as ensuring that the nation's youth have a stake in the continued success of our society