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To Reduce Spending On Prisons, Justice Wants To Speed Up Release Dates

In a theme playing out all over the country, Justice Department officials are proposing new ways to put the brakes on massive prison expenditures that have been eating up a bigger portion of their flat-lined annual budget.

Speaking at the summer conference of the National District Attorneys Association, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer called on Congress to pass two proposals that would speed up the release dates for well-behaved inmates. The first plan would allow prisoners who take part in educational programs proven to reduce recidivism rates to earn up to two months a year in extra credit toward the completion of their sentence. The second would allow prisoners to collect an extra seven days a year of good time credit, from the current 47 days to a new ceiling of 54 days.

Breuer also submitted a new report to the U.S. Sentencing Commission today that argues the historically low violent crime rates are under threat from budget cutbacks "unless reforms are instituted to make our public safety expenditures smarter and more productive."

The overcrowded federal prison system currently houses about 218,000 inmates, and states and county jails hold another 2 million more.

"A criminal justice system that spends disproportionately on prisons, at the expense of policing, prosecutions, and recidivism-reducing programs, is unlikely to be maximizing public safety," Breuer said, according to the text of his speech.

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Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.

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