Based on our analysis of the 25 state reports we issued from May 4, 1997, through March 31, 1999, the following is a summary of the major findings, recommendations, and trends pertaining to the states implementation of the VOI/TIS Grant Program. The results are grouped by the four broad areas reviewed: application information, TIS and state correctional strategies, grant construction projects, and administrative and financial controls. Appendix IV presents the findings and recommendations by location.
States Application Data is Generally Dependable
Statistics. The states must apply annually for the VOI/TIS grant funds. For each fiscal year that grant funds will be awarded, the OJP Corrections Program Office publishes a Program Guidance and Application Kit, which provides detailed information to the states on how to apply for grant funds. As part of the application, the states are required to submit data on new court commitments of sentenced violent offenders, first releases of sentenced violent offenders,5 and violent offenders sentenced under TIS laws. The Corrections Program Office and the states use the data to track the number of violent offenders and determine the average maximum sentence length and the average time actually served in prison or jail.
To verify the capability of the states to provide reliable data for the grant application, we asked the states to demonstrate their process for compiling the data. We found that all states visited had automated inmate tracking systems, which were used to produce the required application data. We reviewed the inmate tracking systems and the supporting documentation extracted from the systems to prepare the grant applications. We then compared the supporting documentation to the data in the grant applications and found that they agreed. Thus, the data provided by the states in their grant applications was generally reliable for grant decision-making purposes by the OJP. However, the capabilities of the tracking systems to produce the supporting documentation varied. For example, data retrieved from two states inmate tracking systems required extensive manual verification and correction. One of those states relied on the individual correctional institutions to submit data on a daily basis to a central location for tabulation, but a correctional official for that state believed the institutions did not always submit the required data. The other states tracking system contained numerous software and data-entry errors, which the state was attempting to eliminate. To help states with less effective information systems and associated processes, we recommended that the OJP provide technical assistance in automated data collection and management. The OJP has offered such assistance to the states.
We also interviewed grant managers within the OJP Corrections Program Office and identified OJPs process for ensuring the states application information was reliable. As part of the application review and approval process, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), within the OJP, compares and ensures consistency between the states grant application data and the states crime data reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR).6 The data required by the VOI/TIS grant program and the UCR is similar; although for purposes of demonstrating compliance with the eligibility requirements of the grant program, states may use the definition of Part 1 violent crime as defined in the UCR, or a reasonably comparable class of serious violent crimes, as defined by the state and approved by the U.S. Attorney General. About one-third of the states we reviewed used an alternative definition of Part 1 violent crime. Based on the data comparison performed by the BJS, the states grant data and UCR data were generally compatible. Only two of the 25 states we visited had inconsistencies in their data. When inconsistencies occur, the BJS informs the Corrections Program Office, which, in turn, requests the state to clarify and resubmit the grant application data. The two states submitted revised application data as requested.
Special Conditions. To be eligible for a VOI/TIS grant, the states were also required to implement guidelines and procedures to protect the rights of crime victims, report inmate deaths, and test inmates for substance abuse. Through interviews and document reviews, we verified that the states had developed and were implementing the necessary guidelines and procedures.
Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grants Influenced Some States to Enact TIS Laws
States Receiving TIS Grants. States may qualify for TIS incentive grant funds by enacting a TIS law that requires violent offenders to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed or by demonstrating through historical data that inmates on average serve at least 85 percent of the sentence imposed. According to a study by the BJS, before TIS laws, violent offenders served, on average, 50 percent of their sentences.7 In FY 1996, the first year of the grant program, the Corrections Program Office awarded TIS grant funds to 25 states that met the 85 percent criteria. In FY 1997, 27 states qualified for TIS grant funds; and in FY 1998, 28 states qualified. Appendix I provides detailed program information and eligibility requirements for TIS grants.
We visited 18 states that had received TIS grants. Through interviews with state officials and reviews of the TIS laws, the legislative history, and other documents such as special studies that discussed the states decisions to enact the laws, we determined the influence of TIS grants on states decisions to incarcerate violent offenders for longer periods. We found that TIS grant funds were a major factor for 3 states, a partial factor for 7 states, and not an influential factor for 8 states.8 Overall, 15 of the 18 TIS states we visited chose to increase the percentage of time served by violent offenders predominantly because of concern for public safety and public trust in the judicial system. By reducing the wide variance between the sentence imposed by the court and the actual time served in prison, the states wanted to ensure the public that violent offenders would serve a large portion of their sentence. A recent survey by the General Accounting Office (GAO) also found that TIS incentive grants influenced less than one-third of all states to enact TIS laws (see Appendix V).
Prior to enactment of the TIS laws, most states had conducted impact studies of TIS on their inmate population and prison capacity. Based on the studies results, the states had modified their correctional strategies or revised their sentencing guidelines to better manage the projected population growth due to the increased time served by violent offenders. Where new sentencing guidelines had shortened the sentence imposed, states had also eliminated mechanisms that could be used to reduce the time actually served, such as credit for good behavior and, in some cases, parole. Thus, under the 85 percent requirement, the states will still incarcerate violent offenders for longer periods. To make additional room for violent offenders and alleviate the strain of overcrowding on the prison system, states have developed alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders, such as electronic monitoring, intensive probation, community programs, and boot camps.
States Not Receiving TIS Grants. Seven of the 25 states visited did not have TIS laws that required violent offenders to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed. These states were not planning to enact TIS laws or revise sentencing guidelines that would meet the federal 85 percent requirement.9 Through interviews with state officials and reviews of state documents that studied the effects of incarcerating violent offenders for longer periods, we determined the reasons for the states decisions to forgo TIS laws. We found that state legislators and correctional officials believed that TIS laws requiring violent offenders to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed were cost prohibitive, even with grant funds. State officials said that they would need to construct significantly more new beds to house violent offenders for longer periods and the grant funds were not enough to offset the costs.
The state officials also believed their current state laws provided adequate punishment for violent offenders. Appendix VI summarizes the influence of TIS grants on the 25 states we visited.
States Have Correctional Strategies. According to the OJP Corrections Program Office, one major factor affecting a states ability to incarcerate violent offenders for longer periods is the states ability to manage its overall inmate population. An important tool for effective inmate management is reliable projections of inmate population growth as compared to prison capacity. To determine whether the states had the capability to develop population projections that could be used for managing the inmate population (especially violent offenders) and prison capacity, we interviewed state correctional officials and reviewed the states' population projections, correctional strategies, and related studies.
As a result of sentencing practices that require more offenders to serve a substantial portion of their prison sentence, the states inmate populations have increased. According to the BJS, the states prison populations have been growing about 7 percent annually since 1990; approximately half of that growth occurred among violent offenders.10 To manage their inmate populations, all states visited had some form of a correctional strategy, although the VOI/TIS Grant Program does not require such a strategy. The strategies are based on projections of future inmate populations. Through interviews with state officials and reviews of the population projections, correctional strategies, and supporting studies, we identified the methodologies used by the states to generate the population projections. However, we did not test the projections for accuracy. We found that some states used automated modeling programs to develop the projections, while other states manually estimated annual population growth based on prior growth. The extent of the population projections varied from state to state. One state projected out only 2 years, while other states projected out from a range of 5 to 30 years. The states also did not uniformly consider the effect of TIS laws on the inmate population. For example, by omitting TIS laws from its population projections, one state had significantly underestimated its prison capacity needs and risked severe bed deficits in the future. To help those states that had expressed difficulty with developing population projections or had omitted TIS as a factor in the projections, we recommended that the OJP provide technical assistance to create projection models. The OJP has offered the technical assistance to the states.
Summary. Based on our state reviews and the GAOs survey, TIS Incentive Grants influenced less than one-third of all states to enact TIS laws. For states without TIS laws that required violent offenders to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed, state officials believed the grant funds would not offset the high costs of constructing new prison beds needed to house violent inmates for longer periods. For states that had been awarded TIS grant funds based on TIS laws or historical inmate data, we could not determine whether the states would continue to implement the federal requirement that violent offenders serve at least 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Future unanticipated legislative and fiscal issues may compel a state to amend or repeal its TIS law or change its sentencing practices. According to the OJP Corrections Program Office, one major factor affecting a states ability to implement its TIS law for violent offenders is the states ability to manage its overall inmate population. TIS laws generally increase a states inmate population. For states with current or projected inmate populations that significantly exceeded available bed space or for states that did not have the capability to effectively project inmate growth, we recommended that the OJP provide technical assistance for projection modeling and managing inmate populations. The OJP has offered the technical assistance to the states.
Progress is Slow for Grant Construction Projects
Status of Projects. From our review of grant applications, correctional strategies, project plans, visits to project sites, and interviews with state officials, we determined that the states had identified projects that would use 47 percent of total funds awarded. For the projects identified, states had initiated construction programs to increase prison capacity and those programs overall were funded predominantly with state funds. The states visited were planning to add 203,795 new beds to their correctional systems. Projects using VOI/TIS grant funds would add 29,717 of the new beds (25,202 beds for adult offenders and 4,515 beds for juvenile offenders) and the remaining 174,078 beds would be added by projects financed solely with state funds. Of the 29,717 beds to be added by VOI/TIS projects, 14,354 of the beds would be paid for with federal funds only. Appendix VII provides a breakout of the beds by each state.
At the time of our reviews, 16 states were only in the planning and design phase of their grant construction projects. The remaining 9 states had either completed projects or had projects under construction. The completed grant construction projects resulted in 1,593 new beds. Additionally, 1 state was using grant funds to lease 1,948 beds from private correctional facilities for violent juvenile offenders.
According to the VOI/TIS grant application, a state may use grant funds to build or expand facilities to confine nonviolent juvenile offenders if exigent circumstances exist. Exigent circumstances require the state to expand its capacity for nonviolent juvenile offenders because of an increase in juvenile crime prosecution or overcrowding of juvenile correctional facilities. A state must certify to the OJP Corrections Program Office that exigent circumstances exist, which require the expenditure of grant funds for facilities to confine nonviolent juveniles. Only six of the states visited had certified that exigent circumstances exist and VOI/TIS funds would be used for nonviolent juveniles.
Reasons for Delays. State correctional and construction officials stated that, on average, planning and building a new prison took approximately three years. In addition, correctional officials cited that they must often wait for the states legislature to first approve specific construction projects and then appropriate the grant fundsa process that does not closely coincide with the timing of the grant awards from the OJP Corrections Program Office. Because the projects are complex and costly, the states further delayed construction until they had received enough VOI/TIS grant funds and identified sources for the required state matching funds. Some states will not allow a construction project to begin until sufficient funds are available to fully fund the project. The grant program allows the states to accumulate grant funds for future construction.11
Construction of new prison beds was also delayed because some states had changed projects from those originally identified in the VOI/TIS grant applications and had to again seek approval and funding through their state legislatures. Two states had not informed the Corrections Program Office of the new projects. We recommended that the OJP require those states to submit updated documentation that describes their planned use of the grant funds.
The complexity and high cost of construction projects had affected the subaward of grant funds to local governments. The grant program encourages states to pass-through 15 percent of the formula funds to local counties. County governments are allowed to use the grant funds to build, improve, or modify local jails, without adding beds for violent offenders. At the time of our reviews, only 7 of the 25 states had subawarded or planned to subaward funds for local projects. Most state correctional officials believed the 15 percent of grant funds was not adequate for local projects and funds could be better spent on projects for state prisons, which house the majority of violent offenders.
Cost Per Bed for Projects Varies Widely
The grant program requires states to ensure that any grant funds used for their projects represent the best value for the state government at the lowest possible cost and employ the best available technology. During our reviews, correctional officials stated that construction costs could vary greatly based on factors such as the facilitys security level, remoteness of the construction site, use of inmate labor, and differences in the local construction market. For the VOI/TIS projects that would add beds to adult correctional facilities, the average cost per bed ranged from $2,984 to $154,268. The difference between these low and high costs per bed is attributed to the type of facility, the security level of the facility, or the amount of construction required. For example, the lower cost projects involved increasing bed space by renovating existing minimum-to-medium security facilities to free bed space in higher security facilities for violent offenders, security upgrades of existing facilities to make them suitable for violent offenders, or smaller construction projects to add new beds to existing facilities for violent offenders. The use of inmate labor for some of these projects also contributed to the lower costs. In comparison, the higher cost projects often involved constructing a new high security facility from the ground up. For one higher cost project, an infirmary was expanded to meet the long-term medical needs of violent offenders. In addition to the construction costs of adding secure space for the new treatment beds, security upgrades were necessary throughout the infirmary, which increased the cost of the new beds.
The cost of juvenile facilities is affected by the same factors that affect the cost of adult facilities. In addition, juvenile facilities are often more expensive than adult facilities because of the space required for educational and rehabilitative programs that must be offered to juvenile offenders. For the VOI/TIS projects that would add beds to the states juvenile correctional systems, the average cost per bed ranged from $14,408 to $116,747. The lower cost projects involved renovations of existing facilities, whereas the higher cost projects involved leasing beds from private contractors, which is an allowable use of grant funds.
Based on our discussions with state officials and our reviews of project plans, budgets, and policies and procedures for accounting and construction monitoring, we found that the states had rigorous processes for reviewing and approving the use of federal and state funds, which often involved final decision-making by state legislatures. Because the states must help finance each of their VOI/TIS projects (and many projects have been funded predominantly with state funds), cost is a concern among the states and considered during their project planning and approval processes. According to the OJP Corrections Program Office, the variables affecting construction make it difficult to establish cost criteria that would maximize the number of beds for violent offenders created by the grant program. However, upon request, the OJP and the National Institute of Corrections provide technical assistance to the states on cost-cutting construction techniques and new building materials and technologies. For the states we reviewed, Appendix VIII provides the average cost per bed for the VOI/TIS projects.
States Generally Complied with Financial and Reporting Requirements of the Grant Program
States must adhere to specific administrative and financial provisions of the VOI/TIS Grant Program. These provisions include sound accounting, audit, and fiscal procedures to ensure proper use of grant funds and timely and accurate reporting about the progress of grant projects and the status of funds. To determine whether the states were complying with the grant program, we interviewed state officials responsible for financial management and oversight of construction projects about their accounting and monitoring processes. We reviewed accounting records and verified the amounts of federal grant awards and state matching funds, the timeliness and allowability of project expenditures, and the timeliness and accuracy of reports submitted to the OJP Corrections Program Office.
State Administering Agency. The Governor is required to designate a state agency to receive and monitor the VOI/TIS grant funds. For the majority of states, the Department of Corrections (DOC) was the designated agency. Although most DOCs had little or no experience administering federal grant funds, the DOCs had established administrative and financial controls to monitor the funds. We reviewed the states accounting procedures and records and verified the amounts of federal grant awards and state matching funds. We found that the grant funds were tracked in the states accounting systems, which are subject to state and federal audits. However, one states accounting system did not reflect the total grant funds awarded, but only the funds budgeted for the current fiscal year. The state was transitioning to a new accounting system, which would show the total funds awarded. To ensure the new system could accurately track the grant funds, we recommended that the OJP require the state to provide supporting documentation from the system that shows the grant funds awarded, matching funds, and expenditures. We also reviewed the prior audit reports and managements comments and verified that required corrective actions had been implemented to resolve any material weaknesses or reportable conditions that would affect the states management of grant funds. We found one state with unresolved audit issues. We recommended that the OJP consider that state for financial monitoring and technical assistance. The OJP has offered the technical assistance and will consider the states unresolved audit issues when selecting states for financial monitoring.
Matching Funds. The VOI/TIS Grant Program requires a 10 percent cash match on each federally funded project and limits the federal share of any project to not more than 90 percent of the total project cost. The cash match on each federally funded project is not due until the end of the project. Collectively, the states we reviewed had identified projects costing a total of $1,127,663,696. For those projects, the states would use $441,720,435 in federal VOI/TIS grant funds, which represents 39 percent of the total cost of the projects. When we reviewed the states budgets for the projects and the accounting records, we found that the majority of states had identified the sources of funds to comply with the match requirement. However, one state had not provided the matching funds for two completed construction projects, two states had identified inappropriate sources for the funds, and one state had used grant funds for administrative purposes but had not provided the matching funds. We recommended that the OJP ensure that those states provide the required 10 percent matching funds from appropriate sources. The OJP is working closely with the states to ensure that the matching funds are provided.
Expenditures. Grant funds may be expended for costs associated with the erection, acquisition, renovation, repair, remodeling, or expansion of new or existing buildings or other physical facilities, and the acquisition or installation of fixed furnishings and equipment. Allowable expenditures include facility planning, prearchitectural programming, architectural design, preservation, construction administration, construction management, or project management costs. Construction does not include the purchase of land. States may also use up to 3 percent of the total formula grant award for costs associated with administration of the grant program. We found that four states were using or planning to use federal VOI/TIS grant funds for unallowable expenditures, such as employment of a private consultant for grant program management, housing of inmates dependent children, trucks, moveable equipment, and supplies for food service. We recommended that the OJP ensure that grant funds are used only for allowable expenses. The OJP has ensured that the unallowable expenditures are not charged to grant funds.
Disbursement of Funds. The OJP requires grant recipients to request funds based upon immediate disbursement requirements. Funds will generally not be paid in a lump sum, but rather disbursed over time as project costs are incurred or anticipated. Grant recipients should time their requests for federal funds to ensure that federal cash on hand is the minimum needed for disbursements to be made immediately or within a few days. However, we found that four states had requested and received more federal funds than needed and had not disbursed the funds. We recommended that the OJP ensure that states do not request and receive more federal funds than their immediate needs. The OJP has ensured that the states have procedures that limit federal cash on hand to the minimum needed for immediate disbursements.
Reporting Requirements. We reviewed the OJP grant files and the states accounting records and VOI/TIS projects to determine whether the states had submitted timely and accurate individual project reports,12 quarterly financial statements, and semi-annual progress reports as required by the grant program. The states generally complied with the reporting requirements. However, we found that 24 of the states reviewed had experienced problems with the timeliness and accuracy of their reports. Most states had improved the timeliness of their recent report submissions, and during our site visits the accuracy errors were corrected. However, five states had continued difficulty meeting the reporting requirements. Therefore, we recommended that the OJP ensure that those states submit accurate and timely reports. The OJP is working closely with the states to ensure that their reports adhere to the requirements of the grant program.
The states we visited were generally complying with the requirements of the VOI/TIS Grant Program. For issues presented in the OIGs separate reports on each state, the OJP and state officials have been responsive to the recommendations for corrective actions. To achieve continual program improvement, the OJP also conducts on-site monitoring visits to the states.
Although the OJP and the states have made efforts to improve their oversight and implementation of the VOI/TIS Grant Program, we have identified areas that require continued management attention.
Correctional Strategies. We suggest that OJP ensure states have the capability to monitor prison capacities and population growth to ensure that violent offenders serve a substantial portion of the sentences imposed. In particular, we suggest that OJP ensure TIS grant recipients, especially states that qualified based on historical sentencing practices, have effective correctional strategies that will continue to meet the 85 percent incarceration requirement after the grant program ends.
Leased Beds. Leasing of bed space from private facilities is an allowable use of VOI/TIS grant funds. However, leasing is a short-term and costly approach for adding capacity to a states correctional system. We suggest that OJP encourage states to use VOI/TIS funds for long-term, cost efficient secure housing for violent offenders.
Matching Funds. We suggest that OJP ensure states provide the required 10 percent matching funds for each VOI/TIS funded project. As part of the states budget processes, the states allocate matching funds to a project based on an estimated total project cost. However, the matching funds are not required until the project is completed13 and the total project cost can change over time. Therefore, we suggest that OJP and the states grant administrators closely monitor a project throughout its life cycle and ensure matching funds have been provided based on the final total project cost.
5 Prisoners released for the first time on the current sentence. Excludes persons who were previously released for the same offense, returned to prison and then released again.
6 The UCR program is a city, county, and state law enforcement program, which provides a nationwide view of crime based on the submission of statistics by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. The UCR programs primary objective is to provide a reliable set of criminal justice statistics for law enforcement administration, operation, and management, as well as to indicate fluctuations in the level of crime in America. The crimes that are reported to the UCR include murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.
7 Paula M. Ditton and Doris James Wilson, Truth in Sentencing in State Prisons, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice, NCJ 170032, January 1999, p. 7.
8 Four of the eight states that were not influenced by TIS grants had passed their TIS laws prior to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which created the VOI/TIS Grant Program.
9 During our reviews, two states were considering applying for TIS funds based on their historical data that inmates on average served at least 85 percent of their sentences.
10 Paula M. Ditton and Doris James Wilson, Truth in Sentencing in State Prisons, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice, NCJ 170032, January 1999, p. 3.
11 When the OJP Corrections Program Office makes an award for a fiscal year, it provides a grant period that includes the year of the appropriation plus four years. New awards are made as a supplement to the original award and the award date is extended by a year each fiscal year. These funds are available to the state throughout the grant period.
12 During our reviews, the Corrections Program Office modified program reporting requirements. Since January 1997, states have been required to submit individual project reports for each project funded with VOI/TIS funds. The reports provide information for monitoring program implementation, such as the type of project, the target inmate population, the number of beds, and the project budget, etc.
13 Some states require matching funds to be expended before federal funds.