Our "corrections system," as it is euphemistically called, trails only health care and education in its cost to the public. With the economy in the shape it is, some states are looking for ways to pay a little less on prison, and South Carolina is doing it right:
South Carolina's Republican governor today signed off on a sentencing-reform law that passed the state's Republican-controlled legislature by a wide margin. It reduces sentences for some non-violent offenders while increasing them for certain violent ones and it improves post-release supervision. It also ends the ridiculous sentencing disparity between powdered and rock cocaine, ends mandatory minimum sentences for first-time drug possession and lets more inmates participate in work-release programmes. It is also projected to save the state $400m over the next five years—no small potatoes for a state looking at a billion-dollar shortfall.
This is a much smarter tack than turning to private companies to run prisons, as other states have done. The private prison companies may save money in the short term, but they have an appallingly twisted incentive structure: The growth of their business depends on us not reducing crime or recidivism.