The bleak economy has many states trying to figure out how to cut cost to improve their bottom line.
To do it, many states have rolled out an a program to grant mostly low-risk criminal offenders early release.
They have begun to release thousands of criminal offenders earlier than laws previously permitted.
CNN reported that the Department of Justice indicated that in 2008 the growth of the prison population was slower than in any year since 2000. Some experts say the slowdown confirms that states are reconsidering their sentencing policies.
Overpopulation also has fueled the decision release low-risk offenders, shaving off time on their original sentences.
Oregon now allows low-risk inmates to earn reductions of up to 30 percent off their original sentence instead of 20 percent. Officials estimate releasing some criminal offenders early will save the state about $6 million.
Critics say letting the financial squeeze on state budgets motivate early release is shortsighted. Some prosecutors say it also undermines the work of the court system.
According to some recent studies, early release can work as an incentive for inmates to lead more productive crime-free lives.
In Colorado, new corrections policies this year allow non-violent offenders to earn 12 days off their sentence for each month of good behavior. Previously, the limit was 10 days.
In Kentucky, the legislature passed an early release provision in the Spring of 2008. Officials said, the state saw a 3 percent re-offense rate among 8,000 inmates who were allowed out of prison early.
The early release provisions, however, apply to "low-risk" and "non-violent" criminal offenders. As a result, this excludes sex offenders and murderers. Officials say inmates released early usually were incarcerated for drug offenses or property crimes.
- Illinois Governor Suspends Early Release Program (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Debate Continues Over Early Release for Prisoners in Michigan (FindLaw's Blotter)
- California Ordered to Trim Prison Population (FindLaw's Blotter)