"I think we should reserve the very expensive prison space for people who are violent - basically, for the people that we're afraid of rather than the people we're just mad at."
– Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael A. Wolff
A few states are getting a grip on skyrocketing prison costs and the human cost incarceration imposes on individuals and communities by getting serious about prisoner reentry.The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported that prison and jail populations across the United States are continuing to increase. However, one state, Missouri, has shown declines in its prison population over the last three six-month reporting periods. This bucks the nationwide trend of overcrowded facilities and longer sentences. What's working in Missouri? A two pronged approach that includes adopting the recommendations of a Sentencing Advisory Committee and a proactive reentry preparation process by the Department of Corrections has reduced Missouri's overall prison population by 700 inmates in the last 18 recorded months. That may not seem like much, but as Judge Wolff said, "...that's half a prison. It's a lot of money."
Missouri communities are also preparing for the return of the previously incarcerated by building community awareness through training events, including reentry simulations for citizens.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics report stated that three other states showed declines in two of the three previous reporting periods and 17 states showed declines in one of the previous three reporting periods. Overall, the nation’s prison and jail population rose 2.1 percent last year. Almost 2.3 million people were in prisons and jails, 46,877 more than 2006.
California is spending billions to establish Community Reentry Facilities to ease the state’s prison overcrowding issue and to proactively address the challenge of prisoner reentry. In Kansas, prison population has also been reduced and Kansas’s efforts are lauded in this Detroit Free Press op-ed piece. Kansas has used “Boundary Spanners.” These are individuals whose job is to break down the walls between agencies to save costs and push effectiveness and efficiencies. Positive political will and support from the Jeht Foundation, Microsoft, and other funders have supported the plethora of good ideas and practices the Kansas Reentry effort has produced. Among them: Day Reporting Centers rather than re-jailing, and housing specialists and business developers who work with the landlord and employer sides of the reentry equation. Read more in the Kansas Department of Corrections 2008 Annual Report.