Prison Pros Point Out Cons of Tougher Sentences

CHAIN gangs, boot camps, mandatory sentences, and a ban on such convict-friendly remedies as education and drug rehabilitation are among the politically popular prescriptions for fighting crime in the 1990s.

But here are some things the people who actually run the nation's prisons and jails are saying:

*Putting younger criminals in tougher prisons for longer terms only makes them more violent by the time they get out.

*Denying convicts gym equipment to keep in shape just makes them less healthy, and thus more of a burden on taxpayers.

*Prison boot camps that make young criminals wear crewcuts and run laps don't work without education and rehabilitation.

Many of the prison wardens, parole officers, social workers and jailers who work behind bars say their views are often drowned out by politicians who play to public fears by advocating tough sentencing rules that cost money without cutting crime.

"A lot of politicians out there making law are not coming to us," said Bobbie Huskey, chairwoman of the 20,000-member American Correctional Association, during its semiannual congress in Cincinnati last week.

The meeting drew thousands of lawyers, counselors, and others who work in the corrections industry, but few people outside the business.

US Attorney General Janet Reno did attend, and she used her keynote address to announce the awarding of $20 million in grants for more boot camps, a concept that gotmixed reviews here.

The danger of prison work was underscored Sunday, as a riot broke out at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian, Mich. During the riot, which injured seven prison guards, inmates protested being ordered to their cells during a power outage, and took over a prison building. Using tear gas, prison officials regained control early yesterday morning.

ACA officials say last year's debate over President Clinton's crime bill, and the Republicans' attempts this year to change it to emphasize punishment over prevention, prompted the organization to send its first lobbyist to Washington.

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