There is at least one trend Indiana is bucking. The number of inmates in U.S. prisons has dropped for the first time since 1972. There were 1,403,091 prisoners as of Jan. 1, down 5,739 or .4 percent from a year ago. The number of prisoners decreased in 27 states and increased in 23. Guess which group we're in:
In 23 states, the number of prisoners increased in 2009 — notably in Indiana by 5.3 percent and in Pennsylvania by 4.3 percent.
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Among the 23 states where the prison population increased last year, Indiana led in proportional terms, growing by 5.3 percent, while Pennsylvania added the most prisoners, 2,122.
We shouldn't care much about the numbers game itself. We should just hope that everybody in prison deserves to be and everyone who deserves to be is. But those are policy questions as much as they are moral ones. States with the big reductions, such as California and Michigan, are taking their actions more because of budget problems than a change of heart about incarceration policy.
An Indiana prison spokesman is quoted as saying the General Assembly had enhanced criminal penalties "to add prison time to a number of offenses, and the state has not had to release prisones out of budget constraints or court orders." That won't necessarily always be so. While the legislature has been eager to increase our number of inmates, it has balked at spending the money to add more prison space. Last year, the Department of Corrections had 7,400 maximum-security prisoners and only 6,186 maximum-security beds, so more of the really bad guys are going to end up in medium-security facilities. Gov. Mitch Daniels proposed spending $40 million to add 612 beds at Miama and 576 beds at Wabash Valley, but legislators didn't care for the idea.