Fiscal Cliff To Force Prisons To Release Inmates

The Fiscal Cliff could force some prisons to release inmates. Criminals may be the only United States citizens looking forward to the potential scenario where the ongoing budget negotiations between Republican House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama end without an agreement. Besides a double-dip recession, states who rely on Federal monies will have to look to other “solutions.”

If the the Fiscal Cliff’s automatic spending reductions kick in, it would trigger an 8 percent cut in nearly $2 billion in federal grants that go to state and local law enforcement. Lane County, Oregon may be forced to release even more criminals because of a major cut in federal subsidies to its law enforcement budget.

Yes, that’s even more…they’ve done this before, with jail commanders like Lane County Sheriff Tom Turner using a protocol affectionately known as “the RAT” to guide their decisions according to the Associated Press:

“Everybody we’re releasing is dangerous to society. But we’re having to choose which ones to keep and which ones to let out.”

Their Risk Assessment Tool, or RAT, ranks “inmates based on nearly 80 questions about their criminal history and other factors to predict how likely they are to reoffend.” Weeding out repeat offenders may be the goal but in practice things don’t always work out the way we would wish. As one example, less than an hour after one low-level offender walked out of the Oregon prison he was attempting to rob a bank during Christmas week.

The loss of state operating revenue from the Fiscal Cliff only adds to the $1.5 billion in cuts to federal law enforcement grants since fiscal 2010. According to the Associated Press, Elizabeth Pyke, director of government affairs for the National Criminal Justice Association, believes that the Fiscal Cliff is just a leading indicator of how the financial future of the United States may affect law enforcement:

“It would not be unreasonable to envision a day in the not too distant future when federal support for state and local law enforcement will be virtually eliminated.”

NPR reports that the two million people plus prison inmate population in the United States requires States to spend about $50 billion annually to house them all. The Huffington Post adds that states with budget problems like California are trying to lower the prison population by early-releasing supposedly low-risk offenders. Some cities are even feeling the heat of budget problems, with Angel Taveras, the mayor of Providence, R.I., writing that the Fiscal Cliff would “have profound and draconian consequences for the City of Providence.”

What do you think State and local governments should do in response to the budget problems the Federal government is facing along with the imminent Fiscal Cliff?