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Justice Reinvestment: Reshaping Justice and Reallocating Resources

January 27, 2010
This week, the Justice Department, in partnership with the PEW Center on the States, Public Welfare Foundation, and the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center hosted a National Summit on Justice Reinvestment on Capitol Hill. Justice Reinvestment is a data-driven approach to reduce corrections spending and re-direct savings to other criminal justice strategies that decrease crime and strengthen neighborhoods. At the Summit, speakers discussed the need to address recidivism rates and corrections spending as well as how best to assist localities struggling with unsuccessful and unsustainable prison and corrections policies. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, over the past two decades, state spending on corrections has grown at a rate faster than nearly any other state budget item. On a nationwide scale, state spending on corrections has increased from about $12 billion to $52 billion a year. In spite of mounting expenditures, recidivism rates remain high. Research by the Office of Justice Programs’ (OJP) Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that half of all offenders released from state prison are sent back within three years. Most of the people released from prison are placed under some form of community supervision. In 2008, the Pew Center on the States reported, 7.3 million people were under correctional supervision, or 1 in every 31 adults. Families, neighborhoods, communities, and states can no longer afford this costly cycle of incarceration. To help address these issues, OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance partnered with CSG’s Justice Center and launched the Justice Reinvestment initiative. Since that time, other funding partners have begun supporting the initiative. These groups are working closely with state and local policymakers to help design policies that manage the growth of the corrections system. They are finding ways to improve the availability of services, such as housing, substance abuse treatment, employment training, and positive social and family support for offenders returning to communities. They are also looking to reinvest savings generated from reductions in corrections spending to make communities safer, stronger, and healthier. Justice Reinvestment is already showing results.
  • In Kansas, the prison population was expected to increase 22 percent by 2016 at a cost of approximately $500 million in additional construction and operating costs. Analysis by experts from CSG’s Justice Center showed that violations of parole and probation were a significant factor in individuals returning to prison. In response, the state enacted new policies and redirected $7.9 million to strengthen probation and parole operations and expand treatment programs. As a result, the state prison population decreased by 4 percent and recidivism rates declined by more than 20 percent.
  • Policymakers in Connecticut, facing an unprecedented budget deficit and a prison population growing faster than any other state, enacted laws that streamlined the parole process for low-risk offenders, addressed the high rate of probation violations, and developed a comprehensive strategy to reduce recidivism. Almost $13 million of the nearly $30 million saved was reinvested in community-based pilot projects. Probation violations dropped from 400 in July 2003 to 200 in September 2005. The decrease in the prison population over a two-year period was steeper than that seen in almost any other state while the crime rate continued to drop.
  • Nevada’s prison population has been among the fastest growing in the nation, and was projected to grow faster, increasing 61 percent by 2017. High rates of failure among people on probation as well as the lack of community-based treatment for substance abuse, mental illness, or co-occurring disorders were identified as the key factors driving the growth in the prison population. In response to this growth, the legislature enacted several policy measures to provide incentives for people to successfully complete probation and parole terms in Nevada. As a result, the state expected to save $28 million by 2009. To ensure that the savings are reinvested in expanding community-based behavioral health care services, the state established a Justice Reinvestment fund with $6.3 million.
Despite the progress we’re making, recidivism remains a complicated challenge and there is a lot more to learn in this area. For instance, one preliminary study (PDF) by OJP’s National Institute of Justice found that if first-time arrestees remained “arrest-free” for 3 to 8 years, they were no more likely to be arrested in the future than individuals who had never been arrested. Think about what that could mean for ex-offenders in areas such as employment, housing, and loans. And think of what that means in our efforts to reduce crime and protect communities. At the Department of Justice, we believe we have a responsibility to be not only tough on crime, but also smart on crime. This means, supporting programs that are backed by evidence of effectiveness. Instead of relying exclusively on punishment, Justice Reinvestment is providing better outcomes for communities and improving public safety. For more information, please visit www.justicereinvestment.org.

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Updated April 7, 2017