The British are debating whether Chancellor George Osborne's massive spending cuts are a wise or reckless approach to cutting the Britain's record budget deficit (currently estimated at 8 percent of GDP). One of the most remarkable aspects of the cuts from an American perspective, is that they include serious efforts to reduce the size and costs of the British prison population through sentencing reforms. While the previous Labour government had planned to expand the prison capacity (which had already grown massively during Labour's 13 years in power) from 85,000 to 96,000, the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition plans to cut back, reducing nearly 6,000 jobs from prisons and probation and actually closing prisons. (read Alan Travis analysis of criminal justice cuts in the Guardian).
Because most prisoners are held at the state level in the US, deficit based prison reductions are a lot less visible, and the national government can generally avoid taking a stand on the need to reduce prison populations. It is hard to imagine the deficit obsessed Tea Party calling for a national commitment to use prison less. Indeed, with the current politics dominated by anger and fear, there is little chance that either party will lead Americans in the kind of broad civic debate about the risks facing the nation and the difficult trade offs necessary to navigate them that all the major parties are engaging in here.