April 23, 2014

ISU professor says releasing inmates to cut costs will increase crime

An Iowa State University sociology professor says it would be a mistake to reduce federal prison populations as a cost-savings measure. Matt DeLisi was in Washington, D.C. today to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Supporters of proposals to ease the prison population claim many drug offenders could be released as they’re less likely to commit other crimes. DeLisi disagrees. “With any discussion of drug offenders, it should be understood that, next week, they’re very likely to be property offenders and potentially violent offenders,” DeLisi said.

The hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee follows recommendations from the Urban Institute to cut the size and costs of the growing Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The Urban Institute suggests fewer or shorter prison sentences for various drug offenders and releasing other prisoners early.

DeLisi cited research which claims the release of prison inmates will lead to an increase in criminal activity. “Releasing one-percent of the current BOP population would result in approximately 32,850 additional crimes,” DeLisi said. The Urban Institute report failed to take into account various antisocial conditions of prison inmates, according to DeLisi.

He noted around 25-percent of prisoners are considered psychopaths, which is a high predictor of recidivism. “Thus, any proposed BOP releases would include, depending on the size of the recommendation, the release of hundreds of thousands of psychopathic offenders,” DeLisi said. There are currently around 211,000 inmates in federal prisons. The population has grown by 700-percent in 30 years and the cost of housing those inmates now represents 30-percent of Justice Department’s budget.