Can Tennessee Cut Its Prison Population And Meth Labs At The Same Time?

Tennessee Department of Correction officials told state senators if growth continues as projected, in the next couple years the state's inmate population could grow by another 2500. Image via Valery Photography / flickr

Tennessee Department of Correction officials told state senators if growth continues as projected, in the next couple years the state’s inmate population could grow by another 2500. Image via Valery Photography / flickr

Making it harder to get the cold medicine that drug dealers use to make methamphetamine could lower Tennessee’s inmate population, prison officials said in a meeting Tuesday with state lawmakers—some of whom are contemplating requiring a prescription to buy pseudoephedrine.

Tennessee’s inmate population has grown 15 percent over the last decade—to almost 30 thousand, between prisons and county and local jails.  The state Department of Correction’s budget last year was about $900 million.  (Link to TDOC’s 2013 report here – PDF)

With lawmakers looking at how they can make it harder to make meth, a state senator asked how doing so might affect the inmate population.

TDOC’s director of research and planning, Mary Karpos:

“If there are prescriptions required, and in fact people can’t acquire some of the ingredients for meth, would that then translate into fewer people actually either being convicted for the use or distribution of meth?” 

Karpos says it makes sense: if the medicine to make meth is further out of reach, it’s harder to break the law to begin with.  She says that could lower the number of drug offenders, who currently make up about a sixth the state’s inmate population.

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