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Using Early Release to Relieve Prison Crowding - A Dilemma in Public Policy

NCJ Number
Crime and Delinquency Volume: 32 Issue: 4 Dated: (October 1986) Pages: 404-502
Date Published
99 pages
Between 1980 and 1983, the Illinois Department of Corrections made an early release of over 21,000 inmates in response to a prison crowding crisis.
During this period, over 5,900 prison years were averted and the project prison population was reduced by approximately 10 percent. NCCD's study evaluated the various effects of this far-reaching program on prisoners, prison crowding, local criminal justice systems, and the public. In terms of public safety, early release did not increase the probability that an inmate would commit additional crimes once released. Also, early release substantially accelerated the amount of crime suffered by the public, but contributed to less than 1 percent of all crimes reported in Illinois. The state crime rate actually declined while early release was operating. Considerable prison costs were averted by the program, although a substantial portion of these savings were eliminated after the volume and amount of economic losses experienced by the victims of early release crimes were accounted for. However, overall early release proved to be cost-effective. The study provided no firm answers to the question of whether early release is good or bad correctional policy. For Illinois state officials, it successfully served to temporarily restrain population growth until more permanent solutions to prison crowding could be enacted. However, early release increased the amount of crime suffered by the public and further discredited an already troubled criminal justice system. If nothing more, this research provides policymakers with a greater understanding of the potential consequences associated with early release as well as the limits of incapacitation (both positive and negative) as an effective strategy for controlling crime in our society. (Author abstract)

Date Published: January 1, 1986