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November 10, 2011

Effective new report on effective state-level sentencing and corrections reforms

Thanks to this post at Right on Crime, I discovered that the "National Governor’s Association (NGA) recently released an analysis of state-level sentencing and corrections reforms."  This analysis is a 26-page Issue Brief titled "State Efforts in Sentencing and Corrections Reform," and here is the report's executive summary:

States continue to struggle during what is the most difficult fiscal environment since the Great Depression.  Projections are that the economic recovery will be slow, forcing states to think longterm about how to do more with less.  Full economic recovery may not happen until the end of the decade.  With corrections among states’ largest expenditures, many are rethinking their approaches to sentencing and corrections practices as they seek to constrain spending.

Between 2009 and 2010, at least 40 states made cuts to general fund expenditures for corrections.  They are reducing staff salaries, benefits, or overtime, eliminating prison programs, and making food-service changes.  Furthermore, states have been increasingly focused on finding ways to decrease overall prison populations. Given that the average prison bed now costs $29,000 a year, they are looking for ways to reduce the number of nonviolent and low-risk individuals going to prison, to move offenders who can be safely managed in the community out of prison sooner, and to keep ex-offenders out of prison through improved prisoner reentry practices.

Ultimately, states aim to reduce prison populations enough to allow them to close prisons. States are accomplishing reductions through sentencing reform, efforts to reduce offender recidivism, and parole and probation reform. For example:

  • South Carolina approved a sentencing reform package in 2010 that the state estimates will reduce the need to build and operate new prison beds by 1,786, saving up to $241 million by reducing incarceration of nonviolent offenders and more closely supervising released inmates to reduce recidivism; 
  • Nevada saved $38 million in operating expenditures by FY 2009 and avoided $1.2 billion in new prison construction by making key sentencing reforms, including expanding the number of credits inmates could earn for “good time” and the number of credits those on community supervision could earn for complying with conditions; and
  • Kentucky passed legislation expected to save the state $422 million over the next decade by diverting certain drug offenders into treatment rather than prison and reserving prison space for violent and career criminals.

The challenge to states is to make cuts in corrections spending while maintaining public safety.  Fortunately, there now exists a significant body of research about which sentencing and corrections practices work and which do not.  Research shows that implementation of evidence-based practices leads to an average decrease in crime of between 10 percent and 20 percent.  Programs that are not evidence-based, on the other hand, tend to see no decrease or even a slight increase in crime.

States can use that knowledge to make more informed decisions about which policies and programs to support as they seek to reduce spending on corrections. This Issue Brief provides an overview of the cost drivers behind corrections expenditures and identifies critical decision-points for states to consider as they take action to reduce costs. It also examines challenges to enacting reforms and makes recommendations for states looking to improve public safety with fewer resources. Those recommendations include:

  • Pursue an approach to reform that involves coordination and collaboration among state executive, legislative, and judicial branches;
  • Adopt evidence-based practices proven to reduce recidivism and eliminate programs shown to be ineffective or harmful;
  • Target high-risk offenders and tailor sentencing, treatment, and release decisions to individual risk factors;
  • Support mandatory supervision and treatment in the community; and
  • Use real-time data and information for decision-making.

November 10, 2011 at 01:19 PM | Permalink


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Great post. Thanks, Todd

Posted by: Todd Nolan | Nov 11, 2011 12:07:47 PM

Great blog. It is disappointing that the debate on how to reduce incarceration and its costs overlooks pre-crime prevention.

In my book Less Law, More Order, I assemble the evidence on what works to prevent crime. It is compelling for prevention of youth crime, promising for violence against women, Ok for situational crime prevention, and OK for problem oriented policing.

In the companion book on Rights for Victims of Crime, I assemble the evidence on the impact of crime on victims, the international standards on their rights and then show how law, enforcement, services, reparation and standing can make progress to enhance victim rights and bring them up to international standards.

Ultimately everyone would be better off if States reinvested in pre-crime prevention and enhancing victim rights. Fewer victims of crime equals fewer 911 calls. Fewer 911 calls equals fewer arrests equals fewer convictions equals fewer prisoners. Better services and rights for victims equals less harm to victims of crime.

It is time to get Right on Crime and Smart on Crime and so on and so forth to follow the leadership of Attorney General holder which is to use evidence, invest in what works and reinvest in prevention.

Irvin Waller, author, comparative criminologist and professor see www.irvinwaller.org or follow IrvinWaller on Twitter

Posted by: Irvin Waller | Nov 13, 2011 8:03:59 PM

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