February 27, 2012

Despite promising signs in President Obama’s budget proposal aimed at curbing prison population growth [“Unshackled,” Feb. 21, editorial], the federal budget still calls for new money to expand prison capacity, including contracting for 1,000 private prison beds. This approach contradicts the innovative approaches being pursued in many states. Significant changes in sentencing policy at the state level have contributed to the first decline in overall state prison populations in 40 years.

Since 1980, the federal prison population has grown almost 800 percent, and facilities are dangerously overcrowded. Funds for expanding prisons would drain money from programs that have prevented crime and reduced recidivism.

The administration and Congress need to focus on reforms that limit excessive mandatory minimum sentences for low-level offenses. This would significantly reduce the prison population while maintaining public safety and go a long way toward promoting a cost-effective and fair justice system.

Kara Gotsch, Washington

The writer is director of advocacy for the Sentencing Project.