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New plans for crowded prisons

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Whatever their politics, liberals and conservatives alike tend to agree on one key point in the controversial debate over how best to fight the continuing crime problem in the US: that the nation's current prison facilities, overcrowded, often understaffed, and in many cases built decades ago, are not succeeding in rehabilitating criminals.

Given the squalid conditions found within many institutions, prisons often contribute to recidivism by reinforcing criminal behavior.

For that reason, suggestions now coming from top government and prison officials about the need for new -- and more modern -- prison facilities warrant close examination by the American public. That is not to say that building new prisons by themselves will be the ultimate answer to the crime problem. That would hardly be the case.

But better prison conditions could surely be an important anticrime step combined with such enlightened penal practices as work release and community service programs, probation, victim restitution, and more appropriate sentencing and earlier parole procedures. No less an authority than Chief Justice Warren Burger has called for a "broad-scale physical rehabilitation of all prisons" to end the overcrowded, understaffed facilities now found in many parts of the US.

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