JS Publication October 31, 2005

Alabama Prison Crisis

Justice Strategies researchers find that nonviolent drug offenses drive explosive prison population growth

Alabama's prisons are dangerously overcrowded and disastrously under-funded. Facilities designed for 13,500 prisoners hold more than 27,000, and Alabama's largest prisons are crammed to three times their design capacity. State corrections officials struggle daily to manage a system characterized by the nation's lowest per-prisoner expenditures and highest ratio of prisoners to guards, along with a death rate that far exceeds the norm.

Alabama's prison crisis is a consequence of explosive prison population growth. While the state's resident population grew by less than 20 percent during the past quarter-century, the prison population more than quadrupled, surpassing 27,000 prisoners in July 2005. Alabama's incarceration rate, which barely exceeded the national average in 1980, now ranks among the top five. African-Americans — who make up just a quarter of Alabama residents but 60 percent of state prisoners — have been hit hard by prison population growth, as have women whose share of the population has increased rapidly.

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JS Publication September 13, 2005

Unfinished Business: How Sentencing Guidelines Reform Can Further Efforts to Reduce Substance Abuse in Maryland

Despite recent efforts in Maryland to expand access to treatment for addicts caught up in the criminal justice system, the bulk of the state resources available for addressing the problem remain "locked up" in the prison system. The nearly 5,000 drug prisoners incarcerated in Maryland (1 in 5 state prisoners) represent a $100 million-a-year "investment" in a failed approach to combating addiction.

In 2004, Governor Robert Ehrlich and state legislature enacted an historic piece of legislation designed to redirect addicts from prisons and jails into substance abuse treatment by expanding the options available to prosecutors, judges and the Parole Commission. That legislation is only as good as the funding that is available to provide the treatment options for the courts divert people to.

A Justice Strategies analysis of sentencing patterns for drug offenses, which was commissioned by The Campaign for Treatment, Not Incarceration, determined that the state's drug sentencing guidelines are part of the problem. The guidelines, which establish recommended sentence ranges based on the nature of the offense and the defendant's criminal history, promote an outdated "lock 'em-up" response to substance abuse by: Read more »

News Article The Explorer News March 30, 2005

Report: No reliable data on private prison savings (AZ)

It was 11 years ago when Arizona first entered the business of outsourcing its corrections operations to private, for-profit corporations with the approval of a privately-run state prison in Marana.

News Article

Judith Greene debates Reason Foundation's Adrian Moore on prison privatization

Judith Greene debates Adrian Moore, director of the Reason Foundation's Public Policy Institute, in a Corrections Connection forum on prison privatization. Click here to listen online.


JS Publication February 23, 2005

Cost-Saving or Cost-Shifting: The Fiscal Impact of Prison Privatization in Arizona

Arizona policymakers responded to claims that significant cost-saving have been achieved through privatization by nearly tripling the number of state-contracted beds. But Justice Strategies' analysis finds that these claims are based on flawed, outdated research that failed to address critical factors including population differences and the cost of financing.

Justice Strategies analysis finds cost-saving claims based on flawed, outdated research.

Arizona's corrections budget has doubled over the last fifteen years, placing a tremendous burden on taxpayers and on the families of state university students. Despite the growth in corrections spending, however, the state prison system remains underfunded and dangerously overcrowded.

Arizona's corrections crisis has led many to call for an overhaul of the state's sentencing system, which packs state prisons with non-violent substance abusers who make up half of all prisoners. Others argue that privatization is the answer to the state's prison woes because private companies can operate prisons at lower cost and finance new prisons the state cannot afford. Read more »

JS Publication October 1, 2004

From Abu Ghraib to America

Since the infamous photos of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq first came to light, much has been said about the role that the U.S. military and CIA have played in connection with the human rights violations. But reports of similar abuse in the United States are all too common, which suggests that America's dehumanizing prison culture has now been exported elsewhere in the world.

In the October 2004 issue of The Open Society Institute's Ideas for an Open Society, Justice Strategies policy analyst Judith Greene explores how the "cruel but usual methods of control used by many U.S. prison personnel" are reflected in the abuses at Abu Ghraibl. Greene argues that what is ultimately needed is "a thorough overhaul of the harsh sentencing laws and policies that have driven the prison system to this unmanageable scale."

JS Publication June 30, 2004

Did Oregon's Measure 11 work? Other States Achieve Greater Crime Reductions at Lower Cost

Supporters of Ballot Measure 11 claim that the reform has served as a cost-effective crime control strategy. Yet a comparison of crime patterns and incarceration rates in Oregon with patterns in other states shows that remarkable reductions in crime rates have occurred elsewhere without recourse to a huge and costly expansion of prison capacity.

1994 was a seismic year for the US criminal justice system. Congressional enactment of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act spurred many states to stiffen penalties for people convicted of crime. That same year Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 11, creating sharply increased sentences for nearly two dozen violent offenses.

Many of its supporters argue that Measure 11 has made a substantial contribution to the decrease in Oregon's violent crime rate since 1995, serving as a cost-effective crime control strategy. Yet a comparison of crime patterns and incarceration rates in Oregon with patterns in other key states shows that remarkable reductions in crime rates have occurred elsewhere without recourse to a huge and costly expansion of prison capacity. Moreover, recent research on deterrence and incapacitation does not provide support for the notion that longer sentences reduce crime rates. Read more »

JS Publication June 1, 2004

The Three-Ring Bond Circus: How bond deals work

The process of putting together a bond deal is complicated and delicate. Investors choose from thousands of options when buying municipal bonds and most seek deals that involve something between little risk and no risk at all. Yet the projects financed by bonds are often massive, involving dozens of risk factors. The task of investment bankers and others who put together bond deals is to put together a package that not only eliminates or minimizes risk factors, but also minimizes the appearance of risk.

An overview of the bonding process authored by Justice Strategies analyst Kevin Pranis can be found at, a website launched by the nonprofit group Good Jobs First to help ordinary people understand the mechanics and implications of municipal bond deals. Click here to read The Three-Ring Bond Circus: How bond deals work.

News Article May 12, 2004

Arizona lawmakers join call for sentencing reform

Respected Republican Rep. Bill Konopnicki (R -- Stafford) and Sen. Carolyn Allen (R -- Scottsdale) welcomed the release of a report blaming the growth in incarceration on Arizona's rigid mandatory sentencing laws, and they pledged to support legislation establishing a sentencing commission to study the matter.

"Arizona Prison Crisis: A Call for Smart on Crime Solutions" was Commissioned by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and released at a May 11, 2004 press conference. The report provides policymakers with the first detailed look at the state's prison population and the specific laws that fuel the current overcrowding crisis.

Authored by Judith Greene and Kevin Pranis of Justice Strategies, the report paints a portrait of a prison system packed with people convicted of non-violent and low-level offenses, disproportionate numbers of people of color and a rapidly growing population of women. The report outlines comprehensive suggestions for sentencing reform, as well as more immediate steps to reduce overcrowding and save money. Read more »

JS Publication May 11, 2004

Arizona Prison Crisis: A Call for Smart On Crime Solutions

Mandatory sentencing laws fuel overcrowding, fill prisons with substance abusers

With the ninth highest rate of incarceration in the nation, Arizona has become the incarceration capital of the western United States. The rate of prison population growth in 2002 was twice the regional average and the state incarcerates women, Latinos and African Americans at higher rates than its neighbors.

Arizona's high incarceration rate is driven by a rigid mandatory sentencing system that severely restricts judges' discretion in imposing sentences and crowds prisons with non-violent substance abusers. Mandatory and lengthy "enhanced" prison terms are required for a variety of offenses, regardless of the facts in the case or the seriousness of the underlying conduct. Except in cases involving first-time defendants charged with low-level property or drug offenses, the system places all sentencing discretion in the hands of prosecutors. Read more »