Study: Prison terms too long, with no added public benefit

Many Georgia residents — especially those taxpayers with an eye toward cost-benefit analysis and efficient use of state resources — might be wondering whether they comprise a distinct minority in thinking that the state needs to readjust its stance on criminal sentencing outcomes and the money expended on inmates serving overly long sentences.

A report released just earlier this week by the Pew Center — a nonprofit group that addresses and recommends solutions on important issues facing states — strongly concludes that such a view is hardly uncommon.

In fact, say Pew researchers, a survey of attitudes in Georgia indicates that there is strong support for sentencing mitigation for a number of federal criminal charges and Georgia state crime charges.

Moreover, notes the organization, there is a coalescing national mindset that irrationally harsh prison sentences are too often visited upon relatively low-risk and nonviolent inmates.

The result? Far too much money spent on prison infrastructure and inmate care, coupled with a lack of evidence that the added incarceration time has any salutary effect on public safety.

“There’s a high cost and little to no crime control benefit,” says Adam Gelb, the director of the Pew study, in commenting on long prison terms handed down to low-risk offenders.

The Pew report points to efforts underway in various states, including Georgia, to reverse what has been a trend in recent years for progressively stringent sentences.

State initiatives include raising the quantity of drugs necessary for meting out harsher penalties; enabling prisoners to cut time off their sentences through participation in expanded learning and self-help opportunities while being incarcerated; and — as in the case of Georgia — speeding up the time in which inmates become eligible for parole.

Source: PR Newswire, “New Pew study finds 36 percent increases in prison time served,” June 6, 2012