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Releasing Nonviolent Offenders Before Their Sentences Are Finished as a Budget Reducer?

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With a sputtering economy and widespread budget crises, many states have decided that reducing their prison populations is a good way to save money. Illinois is one of the latest examples. Under its new early release program, as many as 1,000 nonviolent offenders will be able to finish their sentences at home or at other locations approved by prison officials.

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Nonviolent crimes are defined as property, drug, and public order offenses which do not involve a threat of harm or an actual attack upon a victim. Typically, the most frequently identified nonviolent crimes involve drug trafficking, drug possession, burglary, and larceny. To conduct this analysis, BJS utilized data collected under two statistical programs — the National Recidivism Reporting Program which last collected data on thosedischarged from prisons in 15 States in 1994 and the Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities last conducted in 1997. The survey was based on a nationally representative sample of inmates

In the aggregate, nonviolent offenders awaiting release from prison were largely serious offenders as indicated by several criteria. An estimated 88% of these offenders reported one of the following: — use of a weapon in the current offense (8%) — a prior violent conviction (22%).

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Prisoner reentry can be controversial. Some criminal justice reform groups argue that the United States incarcerates far too many offenders at enormous cost to taxpayers, and that it makes more sense to impose community-based sanctions, with rehabilitative services, on lowlevel offenders. However, community members sometimes object when it seems that criminal offenders—rather than law-abiding citizens—are receiving special help with job training or education programs. The current economic downturn has further complicated the issue, as all types of agencies and services—prisons, jails, police, and social and rehabilitative programs—come under the budget knife

Some law enforcement executives told us that they have their hands full maintaining traditional police functions with sharply reduced funding, and that the idea of taking on new duties regarding prisoner reentry is simply unrealistic in the current environment. In coming years, the economy may improve, making it easier to provide needed funding for correctional agencies, police, and social programs. But regardless of how quickly or slowly the economy gathers steam, the long-term trend for law enforcement agencies may be toward greater involvement in prisoner reentry initiatives. Why? Because today’s police departments are all about solving problems and preventing crime. And they have been very successful; rates for serious crimes like homicide and robbery are roughly half of what they were in the early 1990s. But continued progress may require police to get a handle on the problem of offenders who commit hundreds of crimes over a lifetime as they move back and forth between jail or prison and the community (“Good to Great” Policing, 2007).

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In the long run, we should implement programs that have been proven to work

A stronger relationship among universities and criminal justice agencies, community members, decisionmakers, and others will be necessary in the 21st century. There is every reason to believe that scientific knowledge will help us address the problems in sentencing and corrections.

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Patrol-Level Response to a Suicide Bomb Threat: Guidelines for Consideration (2007)

Strategies for Resolving Conflict and Minimizing Use of Force (2007)

“Good to Great” Policing: Application of Business Management Principles in the Public Sector (2007)

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