Mike Konczal analyzes the politics of prison reform:
When it comes to actually reducing the prison population, which is where all the savings is really going to be, [Mitch] Daniels is hitting major problems within the DA’s office and among the conservative rank-and-file. This quote from Indiana’s Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, a member of the Senate’s Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters Committee, is telling: “We just don’t accept the idea that because the Department of Correction has a bed problem that we should be releasing serious felons back on the street.”
Without making the case for why mass incarceration is bad in and of itself, not just as a budgeting issue, it’s going to be harder to move this. During times of budget stress you see an increase in fear among the general population. So any desire to use the state’s balance sheet as an argument for changing prison policy is going to be offset by an increase in an xenophobia and retrenchment that expresses itself most forcibly in the language of crime control.