Mary Katzenstein, professor of American studies and government at Cornell University, is a specialist in incarceration and comments on the potential effects of the sequester on the U.S. public safety.
“Eric Holder’s announcement of the prospective danger to public safety ‘likely to be’ caused by impending sequester budget cuts is a bit of a canard. First of all, these are temporary cuts – estimated as a five percent reduction in staff on a non-permanent basis. Many states have been reducing corrections budgets repeatedly in the last three or four years – some by double digits. New York has repeatedly experienced Department of Corrections budget cuts, yet as far as I am aware there have been no reports of compromises to public safety. Indeed, in New York State, the incidence of crime has declined even as corrections budgets have been hit and prisoner populations have decreased. “While federal prison numbers have been increasing, state prison numbers have been declining—yet fewer than four percent of prisoners in the federal system are there for violent crimes. One segment of the federal prison population that has been increasing significantly in recent years are immigrants. Of the record 396,906 individuals who were removed this past year, 36,000 were deported whose crimes were driving under the influence. The recent release to supervision of the mere hundreds of immigrant detainees - selected based on records that would indicate no cause for concern to public safety - can hardly be considered a threat to the public order. “The sequester cuts present an opportunity to consider how effective and efficient cuts can be made in the federal prison population – as has happened in many of the states – without causing any reduction in the important need for public safety. Just as the states have had to look very closely at ways that reductions in corrections budgets need to respond to fiscal pressures, this is an opportunity for federal BOP officials to undertake a similar kind of examination.”
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