ISU professor testifies in Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on prison costs

Ryan Anderson

An ISU professor testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in regards to releasing prisoners to save government money.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing Wednesday, Nov. 6, in Washington, to discuss the debate on prison populations and cost-cutting solutions.

“We will be exploring with Director [Charles] Samuels and a panel of witnesses what can be done to improve our prison systems so we better protect the public while reducing costs,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse at the hearing on oversight of the Bureau of Prison and cost-effective strategies for reducing recidivism via webcast.

Matt DeLisi, the coordinator of criminal justice and professor of sociology, was asked to testify at the hearing.

“My role was to talk about what prisoners are like or what kinds of conditions they have that might make releasing them a bad idea,” DeLisi said.

The hearing was designed to bring the committee and several witness testimonies together to address this issue of whether to release prisoners and save money or not release them and prevent other areas of the justice department from receiving that money.

The federal prison system issue has attracted attention from both sides of the political spectrum, Whitehouse said.

DeLisi said he doesn’t know what provoked the hearing, but the cost of government and corrections is something that does not look good to people.

Whitehouse said doing nothing about this problem is no longer an option.

DeLisi attended and testified before the committee to argue against what the judicial system is trying to negotiate.

“The very people who you want to confine, they want to potentially release for cost’s sake,” DeLisi said.

DeLisi has a background in researching inmate correction and inmate misconduct.

The inmates in question are those who exhibit antisocial behavior according to DeLisi’s testimony.

“In terms of antisocial traits … [they include] impulsivity, low self control, low verbal intelligence, high temper, narcissism,” DeLisi said.

Inmates with this kind of behavior possibly could be subject to release if the federal budgets allow this action to take place.

“One of the concerns I had about the report was that there was no consideration about the various types of antisocial features of these offenders. Their only concern was the cost of prisons, which is very high,” DeLisi said.

Whitehouse said at the hearing that we, as the United States, must never try to save money at the expense of public safety.

“I think that cost is well worth it compared to the damage that would be caused by releasing tens of thousands of federal offenders,” DeLisi said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy said in a news statement that greater than 90 percent of federal inmates would be released from prison in the near future. He added that we need to do all we can to ensure that when inmates are released, they are prepared to become essential members of society.

Some prisons have voluntary programs in place for inmates to help them rehabilitate and eventually be released and succeed in society.

However, there are some inmates that are not capable of being rehabilitated, DeLisi said.

“There are people who are sadistic, who not only inflict a lot of harm to people, but they enjoy doing it,” DeLisi said.

DeLisi said no one can actually know what will happen if 10,000 offenders are released back into society.

“The other part of it that is upsetting I think across the board is that confinement is very expensive, and so in prisons I think that counts for 25 to 35 percent of the total federal criminal justice budget,” DeLisi said.

DeLisi said the issue will be debated in the future pending budgets of the upcoming years.