Seventeen states are using a new criminal justice strategy that relies on evidence-based methods to bring down prison costs while reducing recidivism rates, according to the Urban Institute. Projected savings vary across states, ranging from $7.7 million over five years to $875 million over an 11-year period.
“Policies enacted by Justice Reinvestment Initiative states are predicted to either reduce the overall prison population or slow its growth. States projecting a reduction in total incarcerated population expect the decrease to range from 0.6 to 19 percent,” according to the report. “States that do not project a decrease in population expect to slow incarcerated population growth by 5 to 21 percentage points.”
The federal government funds the strategy through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI).
The strategy called Justice Reinvestment gets input from a variety of public safety stakeholders and keeps records of what works and what does not in criminal justice policy.
Risks and needs assessments are used by 16 of the 17 states to justify prison costs.
“These assessments informed decisions about detention, incarceration and release conditions as well as the allocation of supervision and treatment resources,” according to the report.
Accountability measures were adopted in 15 states. “These included ensuring the use of EBPs (evidence-based practices) requiring that departures from sentencing guidelines be justified and developing new data reporting requirements to facilitate the evaluation of justice system operations,” the report finds.
Nearly all of the states adopted “intermediate and graduated sanctions” to implement swift and certain responses, such as shorter jail stays for parole and probation technical violators.
Some states have developed response “matrices” that included both punitive and incentive-based responses designed to promote offender accountability and positive behavior change.
“These assessments informed decisions about detention, incarceration and release conditions as well as the allocation of supervision and treatment resources”
Community-based treatment programs were developed or expanded in 11 states with JRI funding. In addition, these states expanded the availability of programming by funding key services such as substance-abuse treatment. Several states encouraged the use of these programs by requiring that reentry plans be developed for each existing prisoner.
Eleven states implemented sentencing changes and “departure mechanisms.” These systems revise mandatory minimums, provide safety valves and expand non-incarceration options.
Some of these changes include procedures to revise mandatory minimum sentences and increase the use of drug courts in order to reduce offenders being sent to prison.
Six states receiving JRI funding “created or expanded problem-solving courts,” and use mandatory supervision guidelines to ensure that certain existing prisoners receive post-release supervision.
Problem-solving courts used various methods to provide treatment for offenders with specific needs. “Often, problem-solving courts in JRI states focus on those with substance abuse and mental health disorders,” according to the report.
Seven states target high-risk offenders and impose mandatory supervision after release. The report found that mandatory supervision increases the offender’s ability to stay out of prison.
The report explains that only “six JRI states streamlined the parole processes, and five expanded eligibility for parole” to facilitate the release of eligible offenders to parole supervision and shorten lengths of stay, while ensuring that appropriate supervision conditions are met toward public safety.
The report recognized some states wanted to construct new prisons, but decided to invest in alternatives to incarceration instead. By eliminating the need to construct a facility, the states saved money that can be allocated toward exploring what safety measures work and what does not work.
States using Justice Reinvestment strategies funded by JRI are Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.