Iowa Prison Population Drops

DMR reported yesterday that the number of inmates in Iowa prisons is dropping. At the end of June there were 8,455 inmates, down from 8,740 last year and 8,840 in 2007. The state's top prison official tells us why:

Corrections Director John Baldwin said drug courts, substance abuse treatment and other programs are helping reduce the number of offenders returning to prison. There also was a drop in new commitments, due in part to a decline in drug convictions.

Shocking though it may seem, the rehabilitation efforts to move inmates back into the world as productive members of society are working. Reform of the nation's prison system in favor of smarter, more progressive policies such as these has become increasingly more difficult since the 1970s, when the mantra of “tough on crime” swept the nation. Since then, stricter sentencing laws coupled with the ruthless portrayal of any other viewpoint as “soft on crime” (see Bush v. Dukakis, 1988) has stifled debate.

So, after three decades of this, 1 in 100 American adults are in prison. 1 in 9 black men and 1 in 36 Latino men from the ages of 20 to 34 are behind bars. These policies, championed by fiscal conservatives, costs state governments nearly $50 billion each year, and the federal government $5 billion. One of the most vocal proponents of reform on the national level is Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) has been courageous enough to elevate smart reform of prison and crime policies to a higher profile. More on this in a post from Salon's Glen Greenwald earlier this year.

In Iowa, Iowa Public Television said just last year that the prison population was projected to rise from 8,800 to 9,700 by 2017. But, yesterday's news shows that the trend, which admittedly could just be temporary, appears to be reversing itself thanks to programs that are “tough on the causes of crime”, to borrow a phrase from Tony Blair. The IPTV piece also mentions Gov. Culver and the Legislature's efforts to reduce recidivism through community-based corrections facilities, which are cheaper and more effective than sending more people to prison.

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