State of the State Addresses Reveal Need for Prison Reform


Governors from both sides of the aisle, including West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, left, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, discussed prison reform in their State of the State addresses.

A common theme in many State of the State addresses was prison reform and the role substance abuse plays in the number of incarcerated offenders.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Democrat, said bipartisan prison reform efforts and increased substance abuse treatment options had begun to reduce overcrowded jails.

"Now, through our justice reinvestment efforts," he said, "we are moving our inmates out of regional jails and into placements offering substance abuse and job training services."

Phil Bryant, Republican governor of Mississippi, referenced bipartisan recommendations that were both tough and smart on crime and noted his support of drug treatment courts.

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback, Republican, made a single statement related to criminal justice, giving thanks for the passage of bipartisan legislation on the "Hard 50" prison sentence.

Democratic governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, offered startling statistics related to substance abuse.

"Nearly 80 percent of our incarcerated population are either addicted or in prison because of their addiction," he said. "A week in prison in Vermont costs about $1,120, but $123 will buy a week of treatment for a heroin addict at a state-funded center."

"Today, our state government spends more to imprison Vermonters than we do to support our colleges and universities, and our prison spending has doubled in the last nine years," Shumlin added, before detailing steps to reduce the number of persons imprisoned due to substance abuse.

Delaware's governor, Jack Markell, connected substance abuse and crime, calling for treatment rather than imprisonment.

"Much crime is committed by people with substance abuse problems," the Democratic leader said. "Too often, our solution is to simply throw the drug user in prison, but many of these individuals need treatment more than a prison guard."

C.L. Otter, Idaho's Republican governor, said that "routinely ... people with any combination of mental health and substance abuse issues are taken to local emergency rooms or county jails when their condition or behavior puts them or others at risk."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Republican, said that he had requested "a full review of our current system to develop a plan to reduce recidivism, maximize offenders' success in becoming law abiding citizens and provide judges with the tools they need to accomplish these goals."

Their 2014 goal, he said, is to create at least "three regional behavioral health crisis centers" to reduce the number of persons with mental health finding their way to emergency rooms or jails.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Baptist, emphasized the need for education and job skills training for inmates in order to help them find jobs upon release.

"Seven out of every 10 Department of Corrections inmates do not even hold a high school diploma or GED," said the Republican leader.

"This is why improving our high school graduation rate is so important," Deal continued. "High school dropouts with no marketable skills become the feedstock for our prisons."

Also addressing the prison issue were the governors of Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

The governors of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin did not address prison reform in their speeches.

The governors of Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wyoming had not delivered their State of the State addresses by press time.

The governors in Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota and Texas will not deliver an address.

Editor's note: Through the Door - EthicsDaily.com's newly released documentary on faith and prisons - explores the initiatives of churches and faith-based organizations in Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Interviewees speak to the issues of prescription drug abuse, addiction, mental health, the role of religious volunteers and chaplains, and the often-overlooked stresses of prison officials.

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Tags: EthicsDaily Staff, Prison Reform, State of the State


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