Column: Good first step on prison reform

My column this week is about the prison reform bill signed by Governor Beebe into law yesterday. The law lightens certain sentences for nonviolent (and, to be honest, some not-very-violent) offenders while emphasizing parole, probation, electronic monitoring and drug courts.

Most columnists are critical of legislators most of the time, but this was a good vote. Legislators addressed a critical area of government spending growth despite this being an issue that is easily demagogued by opponents.

Few have every lost an election proclaiming the need to lock offenders up and throw away the key. But that approach is wasting a lot of taxpayer money – and a lot of lives as well. Some of those convicts can be turned around, but it makes it harder to do that if they languish in prison for years amongst the real criminals.

So while call it a first step? Because debate is beginning on another major government spending growth area – Medicaid. And that will be much more contentious. I’ll be writing a lot about that in the coming weeks.

Here’s the column.

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