Closing the Door on a Bad Idea – Early Prison Release

by Diane Dimond on March 15, 2010

Keep the Doors Closed!

Keep the Doors Closed!

Well, that didn’t take long.

And, it certainly didn’t take an Einstein to figure out that in our rush to balance budgets by granting early parole or release to thousands of convicts wasn’t such a great idea. And it sure isn’t saving the money proponents predicted.

Several states embraced the theory that they could save millions of dollars every year by paring down their prison population. They’ve quickly come to realize some things just can’t be measured by money. Like public safety – and the threat to the public’s safety.

This was starkly illustrated in Illinois recently when that state’s early release program was labeled, “A big mistake,” by

Gov. Quinn Bravely Declars 'A Mistake'

Gov. Quinn Bravely Declares 'A Mistake'

gnone other than the Governor, Patrick Quinn. He came to that conclusion after learning some violent convicts had been sent home from prison after spending only a few weeks in lockup. More than 50 of the early released were soon accused of new crimes and that, of course, meant more work for law enforcement and prosecutors handling the costly new cases.

So, where exactly was the savings in all that?

The program became a train wreck in Michigan where 13,541 inmates were granted early release last year. One convict featured in a recent New York Times story is Scott Hankins, a two-time sex crimes convict accused of molesting young girls he met at church, some were disabled and some were reported to be as young as 7. Last year Hankins’ psychologists declared he met the criteria for a pedophilia diagnosis but he was released anyway – well before his 30 year sentence was up. Prosecutors are now appealing Hankins’, and other sex criminal’s early releases. Of course, those appeals are time-consuming and expensive for the state.

Did the Crime? Do the Time

Did the Crime? Do the Time

In Oregon, legislators passed an early release law last summer. Thousands of convicts became eligible including 33 year old Demetrius Payton, a registered sex offender and convicted burglar. His second chance came in October 2009 when he got out of prison early. But by January Payton had been re-arrested for unlawful sexual penetration and felony burglary and he’s now the focus of an anti-crime radio campaign launched by concerned citizens and former prosecutors.

The voice of former District Attorney Tara Lawrence reveals her exasperation with Oregon’s program to let prisoners, like Payton, out early. “Law enforcement caught him,” she says in the ad, “the politician’s new law released him … Law enforcement caught him again. With more than 4800 prisoners up for early release … this won’t be the last one.”

Oregon has now suspended its early release program.

No Nonsense DA Lawrence

No Nonsense DA Lawrence

California, under a federal court order to reduce its prison population, has a plan that’s really gotten bollixed up. Even before the statewide program went into effect county jails began releasing hundreds of prisoners. At least one, a violent offender named Kevin Peterson, was out for less than 24 hours when he was arrested for attempted rape. Now, lawmakers say they never intended for county prisoners to be included in the early release program. Who will pay to fix the problem? The cash strapped citizens of California, of course.

Several other states are also reassessing just how to juggle early release and public safety. These programs are supposed to target only low-risk and non-violent prisoners. But obviously repeat offenders, violent offenders and sex predators are among those being set free. That’s just not fair to the rest of us.

Regular readers of this column know I’ve long preached the need for both prison and drug law reform. Because of our national experiment with tougher drug sentencing there are too many low-level drug offenders clogging up our

There's No Justice in Overcrowded Prisons

There's No Justice in Overcrowded Prisons

courtrooms and prisons. De-criminalizing marijuana would go a long way toward solving today’s massively expensive and over-crowded prison situation. Then we could concentrate on getting the addicted back into mainstream, taxpaying society again. We also need to better re-assimilate and support convicts after they’ve served their time so they don’t come back. Those diagnosed as truly criminally insane need specialized handling. And, those who simply don’t respond to rehabilitation? We need to find ways for them to pay their own way in the system through prison work projects.

But for now we need to struggle through this ill-fated idea of opening prison doors and allowing convicts to get out early. There’s got to be a better, safer way to try to balance budgets.

I suggest state officials take a deep breath and study what’s happened in Colorado. Early on officials there figured they could save 19 million dollars with the early release of some 2,600 prisoners. Sounded like a great idea. But they took the time to actually study individual cases and realized that, in good conscience and with public safety top of mind, they could only justify releasing a mere 264 convicts.

It’s okay to admit a mistake. In fact, oftentimes it’s the smartest thing we can do.


Diane March 15, 2010 at 8:02 am

Creators Syndicate Reader David Henricks writes:

” Dear Diane Dimond, Perhaps now, you realize that executing convicted criminals has never been about revenge, but about protecting society. The false premise, that “civilized” societies do not execute criminals is working. How many years of years of wasted tax-payer dollars is enough to realize the false premise that “they can be rehabilitated”. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is desperately wicked: who can know it? I, the Lord, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10) For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Mark 7:21. Execution is not murder. It is just punishment.

I. Franks-Singer March 15, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Finally, yet a bit too late for Calif. I wrote the Governors office in regards to this “budget cut”. I also sent my plea out to several victims advocates as soon as this inmate release idea fell into place. My words seemed to fall upon deaf ears… See my website and click onto “Open Letter to Governor”. How could anyone “not” see this train wreck coming? Be safe and learn to protect yourself because our government will fail you every time…

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:21 pm

From Diane Dimond web site Reader Franz Kurz from Germany:

“Dear Diane Dimond,

you are very right when you make clear, early release makes no sense because of crucial economic situation at present. Nevertheless across the New World with world highest prisoner rate return to community process had not been organized since at least a decade. Many distinguished fellow citizen wrote about. For example:
Joan Petersilia:
· When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry, University of Chicago Press, 2003
· Reforming Probation and Parole in the 21st Century, American Correctional Association, 2002
· CRIME: Public Policies for Crime Control, ICS Press, 2002 (with James Q. Wilson)
· Community Corrections (1998)
· Prisons, edited with Michael Tonry (1999)
· Criminal Justice Policy (1998)
· Crime, edited with James Q. Wilson (1995)
· “When Prisoners Return to Communities: Political, Economic, and Social Consequences” (2000)
Catch and Release By Margaret Talbot, New America Foundation
The Atlantic Monthly | February 1, 2003

Finally my contribution from Germany:
International CURE Newsletter Winter 2008:
The Release Process in a Federal State of Germany
By Franz Kurz

Sentencing, incarceration and orderly release must be understood as a unit. Only then you’ll save money! And, if you permit me to add, human capital.
Economic crises might give the opportunity to open eyes instead of closing doors (possibly better understood by US car industry).”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:23 pm

DD web site Reader Ralph Logan writes:

“States should never put that burden on tax payers. “

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Facebook Friend George R. Bardes writes:

“Thats true Ralph! However, statistics show that ppl dont have rehabilitative chance in jail n prison n the recidivism rate is high for a person who hasn’t improved his life skills! They reoffend often due to inability to get job due to criminal record which they cant afford to expunge. I agree the taxpayers shouldn’t pay for their incarceration, maybe we shoulld rethink how the punishment fits the crime and make adjustments as needed to fit modern realities.”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Facebook Friend Darcy Miller writes:

“How many people actually go to jail and become rehabilitated ?i believe more people committing other crimes that other prisoners have talked about,along with the crimes they were put in prison for.
all early release does is allow these criminals out to commit crimes earlier then what their full sentence was.
look at what happens with early release… See More tracy duggard kidnapped for 18 yrs ,chelsea king amber dubois raped and murdered all by early releases and many many many more victims.
i for one as a taxpayer do not mind paying for them to go to jail what i do mind is i am paying for cable tv,weight sets( yeah bulk them up before you release them real bright)and extra stuff like that.
people that get out of jail and go on the straight and arrow are able to get jobs and live a productive life it is the criminals that go to prison and come out and use the excuse woe is me i am a criminal noone will hire me and didnt step 1 foot in a door to fill out an application or after the1st rejection give up trying or you have the ones as soon as they r outside the gate go and find trouble.”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Facebook Friend George R. Bardes replies:

“there are no rehabilitative programs in jail/prison Darcy! How does any person whos poor n uneducated(which is usually the reason they committed crime)turn their life around when the only key that unlocks all the doors is money that they dont have and cant borrow? I speak from personal experience, i’m not manufacturing a myopic opinion! You have … succeeded in failing to comprehend what im saying Darcy! I guess denial is the currency which keeps you gleefully ignorant! Good luck in life n I hope you never make a mistake where you go to jail/prison with your attitude of ignorance, I just hope that a person that believes ypur opinion doesnt determine your freedom in life! :)”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Face book friend Ralph V. Logan replies”
“George, What I meant was the States shouldn’t put the burden of Early release programs to reduce budgets on the taxpayer. States never put funding for the successful programs to rehab. and give those inmates the opportunity to succeed. The other side of the problem is the support base at home for those returning to society. The families of these inmates must be in the postion to support their sons, daughters , there are local program that are not only underfunded but under use by these families.”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm

George R. Bardes replies:

“I understand what you mean Ralph! 🙂 Thanx for sharing with me n everyone!”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Ralph V. Logan replies

“George , no problem , I spend most of my career trying to change the prison system and had some success ,but at the end it all came down to funding. I did recieved funding from the Justice Dept. and non-profit organizations. Diane has written a number of articles about those programs around the country.”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Facebook friend Karen McIntyre writes”

” Unfortunately, we need more prisons.”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:30 pm

George R. Bardes writes”

“Karen, We could 10 times more jails/prisons and it wouldnt deter crime rate! Look at statistics n youll see that this is true n not my opinion. The answer isnt yo build prisons but rather to change how we punish people convicted of crimes. Perhaps we should look rather at how other countries have less prisons n less violent crime n a better quality of life! ( Norway is a prime example!)”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Karen McIntyre replies:

” George. That was my simple answer. Nobody will like my real one but here goes…
I grew up with a lot of poor and uneducated people–none of them ended up in prison. It’s not about money, education, or big companies, it’s about standards, morals, and good parenting. Dad is gone, Mom is more concerned with boyfriends, kids are abused or just left to raise themselves.
We gave God the boot so we have no solid foundation of right and wrong, good and bad, to pass on. We also have a society that believe the schools and government should be raising our kids, providing for us, involved in every aspect of our lives.
We are now living with the results of broken families, drug addicted parents, and damaged children. No, it won’t change and more prisons won’t fix it. Unfortunately, until we, as a society, make an about face we will continue to reap what we sow. All we can do is house or kill the monsters–there is no fixing them.
Don’t accuse me of being and crazy evangelical bible-thumping zealot. I don’t even go to church.”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:32 pm


I like your answer! ~ DD

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Facebook and LIFE friend Brenda Box writes:

” The ACLU should go away???? A group standing for civil liberties? What have we become….?”

Diane March 15, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Facebook and LIFE Friend Jeffrey Warren Hughes writes:

“Seems like all they do is instigate lawsuits against common sense things…any judge should be able to decide who and what is right or wrong….but some of those are pretty liberal-minded….whoops. Bad word…..”

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