Looking at Illinois: Releasing Prisoners to Reduce Deficit

I listed a few ways to reduce the budget deficit earlier this morning, but one thing I didn’t mention was the way Illinois is now reducing the budget deficit: reducing prison populations:

Gov. Pat Quinn tried to allay concerns Tuesday about the state releasing prisoners early to save money by stressing that the inmates being let go will be electronically monitored and had not been violent offenders.

In the coming weeks, about 1,000 prisoners will be released — some up to a year early — because of the state’s financial troubles.

“We’re going to do this because we do have financial challenges, but at the same time we’re going to do it in a way that always protects the public,” Quinn said.  (Chicago Tribune 11/10/2009)

If you read the whole article, the interesting thing about this was that Illinois already pays A LOT less per prisoner than California does.  Illinois is at about $5K per prisoner, we’re at $45,000 per year. Our prison system is in need of some serious repair, and the overcrowding makes it costlier to manage.

Of course, we’re going to have to release some prisoners at some point. While the state is battling it out with the federal courts, the end result is at least partially known. Within a few years, the state has committed to reducing prison population by at least 27,000. Of course, that falls short of the federal court’s request of 44,000, so litigation will continue on for a while.

But do the math on that for a second. Even if we only go down by that 27,000 figure, that is 1.2 billion dollars per year.