Unlocking the Prison Puzzle

An innovative correction reform program is currently underway in Alabama to decrease the number of long prison sentences. The Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project and the Vera Institute of Justice teamed together to implement a four year project that supports in-depth research and education for policymakers and the public to help states increase public safety, manage corrections spending, and hold offenders accountable. Alabama is the first of eight states to implement the pilot program.

The Pew pilot program has three main objectives. First, it aims to collect and analyze data about who is admitted to the state's prison, how long they stay, who returns, and the implications of those practices for public safety and state budgets. Second, the initiative aids states in understanding how their existing sentencing, release and community-supervision policies compare to those of other states. Finally, the initiative encourages states to use all the information gathered and best available research to explore policy changes that will increase public safety and deliver a solid return on taxpayers' investment.

The Alabama project aims to expand community corrections programs for non violent offenders, such as work-release centers, as a viable alternative to long prison sentences. Alabama prisons are currently grossly overpopulated, partly because too many nonviolent criminals have been put in prison for long terms. Instead of serving long prison terms, people convicted of non-violent property crimes and drug crimes can be placed in community programs. This would shrink the already too-large prison population and lead to less recidivism, or tendency to repeat crime, among inmates released into society. It also allows them to work during the day and then go back to a confined center at night. Through this, non violent prisoners can work to earn money to pay restitution or fines and also begin to acclimate to life without crime.

Through the pilot program, Alabama has a chance to lead the nation in correction reform and provide a viable alternative to the current overpopulated, non-reforming corrections programs.

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