Commentary: U.S. jails are too full

This editorial appeared in The Rock Hill Herald.

America's "lock 'em up" philosophy regarding criminals of all stripes will be hard to sustain during these difficult economic times. States need to start coming up with alternatives to putting inmates behind bars.

South Carolina is familiar with the problem of costly prison systems. Just last week, Corrections Department Director Jon Ozmint was drafting plans that call for the early release of nonviolent inmates as a last resort in dealing with a $39 million budget deficit in his department.

It was not the first time Ozmint had pitched the idea of releasing non-violent prisoners. In November, he proposed cutting time from the end of sentences for some inmates to help reduce a $23 million deficit and find money for a $50 million maintenance backlog.

It's not as if Ozmint has been a spendthrift. South Carolina spends less to keep its prisoners locked up than any other state.

Last year, to cut expenses, the Corrections Department cut the number of stamps issued to inmates to two from five per month; limited the amount of prescription drugs they receive on release from a two-week supply to a five-day supply; and required prisoners to grow more of their own food.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Rock Hill Herald.