Another option for uncrowding US prisons

In his annual report Chief Justice Warren Burger suggested various methods that might be used to defuse the potential for explosive inmate violence in America's overcrowded prisons. He failed to stress the increased use of ''community corrections,'' the placement of offenders in nonprison facilities. Yet especially now, when government funds are limited, any recommended spending of tax monies should not ignore this relatively inexpensive option.

In 1980 the average cost of maintaining a prisoner in state institutions in Colorado was $26.32 a day, in Iowa $34.25 a day. The cost of keeping an offender at a state halfway house or other community-based residence in the same year was offender on probation or parole was estimated at $362.71 a year in 1980 by the Florida State Probation and Parole Services. In 1981, a new maximum security prison was estimated to cost $70,000 a bed to construct.

The question may be asked: Will increased use of community corrections create a threat to the community?

Statistics do not validate a lower rate of recidivism, i.e. return to prison, for offenders paroled or released on expiration of sentence from a community-based residence compared to release directly from prison. But neither do they indicate a higher rate of recidivism. If there is no difference in recidivism rates, then there is no greater danger of more crimes and the increased use of community corrections programs is a wise administrative decision.

In addition, state correctional departments have assumed the task of discriminating between violent and nonviolent offenders. Many states have developed diagnostic centers with the capability of making this discrimination. By demanding this diagnostic procedure, communities can assume that only nonviolent criminals are accepted into community corrections programs.

In December 1982 an Indiana interim legislative committee on corrections recommended the 1983 legislature include $2.8 million for community programs in the state's budget for the two fiscal years beginning July 1, 1983. Of 90 lawmakers polled by United Press International, 66 (or 73 percent) said they would vote for more money for community programs for nonviolent offenders. Their endorsement of community corrections was a response to court orders mandating reduction in population at the Indiana State Prison and the state reformatory.

If other legislators follow the lead of their fellows in Indiana and endorse the increased use of community corrections, they will be recommending an option that will cost less to operate and can also lower prison populations, thereby decreasing the potential for inmate violence in the country's correctional institutions.

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