RECESSIONOMICS

Cash-Strapped States Set Inmates Free

The slumping economy is working to at least one group's benefit—criminals. In an effort to save money, more than two-dozen states cut their corrections budget this past year, leading to the early release of scores of prisoners and prompting officials to enact more forgiving mandatory-sentencing laws, accelerate parole proceedings, and increase rewards for good behavior. California, home to the country's second-largest prison system, is considering releasing 40,000 prisoners, both to save money and help reduce overcrowding. Many lawmakers, who've struggled to better manage the country's criminal-justice system for years, have expressed relief. "The budget has actually helped us," said a spokesman for Michigan's Corrections Department, which increased the size of its parole board by 50 percent this year. "When you're not having budget troubles, that's when we implemented many of these lengthy drug sentences and zero-tolerance policies [that] really didn't work," he said.