Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wardens Lukewarm on More Prisons, Simon Survey Says

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wardens Lukewarm on More Prisons, Simon Survey Says

Article excerpt

Prison wardens think locking more people up and building more prisons to hold them will not solve the nation's crime problem, says a survey released Wednesday by Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill.

Instead, most favor the release of nonviolent offenders to concentrate on holding the violent ones who pose the most danger to society, Simon said. He announced the results of the survey of 157 wardens in eight states at a news conference with several current or former law enforcement officials who share his prevention-oriented approach to crime. They said they fear that the new, Republican-controlled Congress would gut programs to prevent crime in favor of harsher punishment measures.

The GOP "Contract with America" includes a provision that would give more than $10 billion in grants for new prisons over six years to states with tough sentencing laws, while repealing prevention programs passed by Congress last year. It also would maintain mandatory prison terms for nonviolent, low-level criminals in the drug trade.

"We're at the point where I think we need a reality check," Simon said. He cited Justice Department figures showing that the U.S. prison population has risen sharply since 1975 to more than 1 million, while the crime rate has got worse as well. "The idea that we can solve our crime problem by putting more people in prison has not worked," Simon said.

Republican backers of the contract suggested that it is Simon who needs the reality check. "To say we can't do anything in the criminal justice system to suppress violent crime is just wrong," said Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo. "It's a denial of reality. If you can identify the layer of violent criminals better, and subject them to swifter, more severe punishment, you will suppress violent crime."

Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., who will be chairman of the House Judiciary crime subcommittee in the new Congress, took issue with Simon's assertion that the Republican contract would shortchange programs for prevention. …

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