Fix our prisons: It makes ethical and financial sense

By Nancy K.D. Lemon, San Francisco Chronicle

The U.S. Supreme Court got it right - we must release many of our prisoners and send fewer people to prison in the future ("30,000 inmates must be released," May 24).

Let's start with prisoners 55 and older, who have the lowest recidivism rates by far and the highest medical costs.

We should also not be sending mothers of young children to prisons, as this usually costs the state thousands of dollars for foster care and can create a lifetime of trauma for the children, resulting in a much higher rate of their also going to prison someday.

And many of the lifers in prison are battered women who defended themselves and their children when no one else would help them.

Finally, most women now going to prison (and many men) are there for nonviolent crimes such as drug possession - why are we spending an average of $50,000 per year per person to lock them up when we could spend less money to provide community-based drug programs that would address their underlying problems? (I teach Girls, Women and the Criminal Justice System at Boalt Hall School of Law, UC Berkeley.)

Besides the need to treat each other with decency, the financial future of our state depends on making these policy changes, and the sooner the better. 5/26/2011