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Report: Six States Shuttered Prisons, Reduced Bed Space in 2013

A new report from the Sentencing Project highlights prison closures and correctional bed reductions in a half-dozen states in 2013 and outlines the dynamics for more closures in 2014 and beyond.

North Carolina led what the Sentencing Project called “the continued trend of prison closures” last year by reducing its correctional capacity by 1,986 beds, and estimated that the reductions – spread out over eight facilities – would save $40 million.

Georgia, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas either reduced their correctional bed space or planned closures totaling another 9,384 beds and projected savings of more than $188.7 million.

The U.S. prison population, meanwhile, totaled 1.5 million at the end of 2012, which was 1.7% less than the 2011 population and the third consecutive year of decline. Shifts in legislative policy, a decade in the making, appear to be finally impacting state prison populations, the report said.

“Legislative and administrative reforms have included scaling back mandatory sentencing laws, increasing parole release rates, and authorizing earned release from community supervision,” the Sentencing Project noted.

Of course, the most significant state policy shift driving a decline in the prison population has been California’s U.S. Supreme Court mandated “realignment” plan, under which the state has merely transferred custody, in most cases, of non-serious nonviolent and nonsexual felony offenders from prisons to county jails, rather than releasing them outright. But there were significant reforms nationwide in 2013.

Among them, Colorado lawmakers authorized alternatives to incarceration for some felony drug offenders. Nebraska has expanded alternatives to detention for juvenile offenders. And at least three states – Kansas, Oregon and South Dakota – authorized earned discharge from community supervision for those who successfully comply with parole conditions, thereby reducing the numbers of people re-incarcerated for technical violations.

Beyond sentencing reforms, New York – which has one of the county’s largest prison populations – has reduced its correctional capacity by more than 5,100 beds at 13 prisons since 2011 and reduced the overall number of the incarcerated. More prison closures, according to the Sentencing Project, are expected in New York in 2014, in spite of proposed legislation that would require state lawmakers to debate and vote on any prison closures, rather than leaving their fate up to governor’s office.

While many states have closed prisons or reduced capacity, same are planning new facilities, including Pennsylvania – which considered reducing its capacity by as many as almost 2,400 beds in 2013 – and California.

Pennsylvania is spending $400 million to building two prisons with a combined capacity of 4,000 beds in Skippack Township. California, which accounted for “the largest share in population declines in 2012,” according to the report, will spend $715 million on prison expansion by 2015 and transfer 12,000 prisoners to privately run facilities out of state to deal with its chronic overcrowding.

Maine, New Hampshire and Washington might also building new prisons, while Florida is considering re-opening nine closed prison, which would cost $59 million.

“The request (for appropriations in Florida) was met by some resistance from fiscally conservative lawmakers,” the Sentencing Project reported, “and the discussion may lead to an opportunity to modify sentencing policies.”

Source: “On the Chopping Block 2013: State Prison Closures,” The Sentencing Project,

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