NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 6, 2009

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty wants to help balance Washington, D.C.'s recession-squeezed budget by allowing as many as 80 percent of the city's inmates to qualify for early release, borrowing a tactic that has stirred controversy elsewhere in the nation.

The city hopes to save $4.4 million in fiscal 2010 under the plan, which would reduce the prison population by 2 percent from its current daily average of 3,000 inmates.

  • Current law permits sentenced inmates to earn up to five days off their sentences each month by completing specified academic and vocational programs.
  • The new proposal would extend the program to pretrial inmates and allow them to earn time off simply by participating in the programs.
  • Officials said about 2,400 inmates would be eligible to receive good-time credits under the proposal.
  • If each eligible inmate earned an average of five days of good time, it would reduce the average inmate population by about 65 people.

The plan has drawn at least initial concern from a key D.C. Council member, who stressed the importance of ensuring it would not be detrimental to public safety if enacted.

"This is pretty fundamental to public safety, that if we're going to release people early, we need to know that we're doing it right and for a good cause," said Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

Source:  Gary Emerling, "D.C.'s money-saving plan: Free inmates," Washington Times, April 2, 2009.

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