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Justice reinvestment is a public-private partnership between the Bureau of Justice Assistance and The Pew Charitable Trusts to work with states to improve public safety and control taxpayer costs by prioritizing prison space for serious and repeat offenders and investing some of the savings in alternatives to incarceration for low-level crimes that are effective at reducing recidivism.
Strategies that incorporate evidence-based practices (EBPs) enable states to focus on increasing the efficiency of their criminal justice system by using limited resources (fiscal and otherwise) effectively. One such EBP used by JRI is the establishment of problem-solving courts to work with appropriate criminal justice populations.
States that have or are in the process of incorporating problem-solving courts – by revising program eligibility, expanding program capacity, reinvesting funds, etc. – into their JRI legislation include:
To address overcrowding in state prisons, the corresponding backlog in local jails, and the associated costs to accommodate this steadily rising prison population, Arkansas joined the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in November 2009. Arkansas made an up-front JRI investment of $2.4 million to support transitional housing, behavioral health treatment, and electronic monitoring, but it has not documented any averted costs or additional investment to date.
Arkansas' prison population declined in the year following the passage of Act 570 in 2011, which required community corrections to use evidence-based practices, streamline the parole release process, revise drug and theft statutes to reduce penalties for less serious offenses, link risk and needs assessment results with supervision intensity and treatment, develop graduated sanctions and incentives for offenders on community supervision, establish an earned discharge policy, and increase reporting requirements for other criminal justice agencies.
Following the high-profile arrest of a parolee in June 2013, the Board of Corrections revised parole release and revocation policies, and Arkansas’s prison population began to increase again. Arkansas leaders are exploring new strategies for reducing prison populations while maintaining public safety.
Georgia joined the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in 2011 to address prison population growth and associated corrections expenditure increases. Georgia passed JRI legislation in May 2012, which reserved prison beds for serious offenders, expanded alternative sentencing options for judges, strengthened probation officers’ ability to respond to violations, and relieved local jail overcrowding through streamlined information transfers and effective use of probation detention centers.
This legislation allocated $11.6 million dollars of averted corrections expenditures to fund mental health and drug accountability courts. It revised penalties for simple drug possession, expanded accountability courts, and required courts to adopt a certification process. As a result of this bill, the Administrative Office of the Courts has produced a comprehensive set of accountability court standards, and 32 drug and mental health courts were in the process of receiving peer certification as of 2015.
Using anticipated savings from the reforms, Georgia invested more than $56 million in accountability courts, educational and vocational programs, the Prisoner Reentry Initiative, and risk assessment tool development. Of this $17 million went to accountability courts and residential substance abuse treatment programs.
In 2013 Georgia received subaward funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, to, among other things, support the accountability court certification and peer review process, including staff training on certification and peer review evaluation visits.
By 2010, Kentucky had the fifth fastest growing prison population in the nation. To address this, Kentucky's Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) legislation, the Public Safety and Offender Accountability Act of 2011, directed resources, such as prison space, toward serious offenders, strengthened community supervision, and made system-wide improvements across Kentucky's corrections system.
Kentucky made an up-front investment of $15.1 million, and invested an additional $42.6 million in evidence-based programming for individuals in prison and in the community. In fiscal year 2012, Kentucky reinvested $13.9 million on evidence-based practices for several programs including substance abuse treatment.
Although Kentucky's prison population increased 2.6 percent the year after JRI legislation was passed, the prison population declined from 21,632 in 2011 to 20,403 by the end of 2013.
In 2008, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate in the nation and spiraling corrections costs. It joined the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in 2010 to reduce prison populations and spending. Louisiana adopted JRI policies that included enhancements to the use of good time and earned time credits, increases in parole eligibility for certain offenders, strengthened parole board decision-making processes, improved probation and parole supervision, and allowances for departures from mandatory minimum sentences.
In 2013, Louisiana reinvested $1.7 million in community-based treatment services for offenders identified by the court as having substance abuse addictions as the underlying cause of their offense.
By the middle of fiscal year (FY) 2014, the state had already realized $17,249,098 in savings.
In 2012, Mississippi had the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country after Louisiana, and the prison population has grown 17 percent over the past decade. As Mississippi's prison population grew, so did its correctional spending. Mississippi joined the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in 2014 and adopted comprehensive criminal justice legislation to address the drivers of this prison population growth, which were identified as the increase in prison admissions of nonviolent offenders, revocations for technical violations of supervision, and increasing sentence lengths.
JRI reforms focused prison space on the most serious offenders, strengthened community supervision, and increased alternatives to prison, such as specialty courts. They expanded the accessibility of drug courts for certain drug offenses and for driving under the influence crimes and authorized veterans’ courts to meet the specific treatment needs of veterans.
The state has reinvested $10.85 million in accountability courts for youth and adults convicted of drug offenses.
North Carolina joined the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in 2009 to address its prison population growth and adopted JRI reforms that included requiring mandatory supervision for everyone convicted of a felony upon release from prison, improving responses to probation violations, housing misdemeanants in jails rather than in prisons, and targeting resources to those at a high risk of reoffending.
JRI reforms were projected to reduce the prison population by 8 percent over six years and save $560 million. The prison population declined by 8 percent in the first three years of implementation, allowing the state to close 10 correctional facilities.
North Carolina has documented averted costs of nearly $165 million and reinvested more than $32 million of its savings to support probation and community-based supervision and treatment over four years.
Oregon's incarceration rate grew four times that of the national average between 2000 and 2012, which led it to join the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in 2012. Oregon passed JRI legislation in 2013 to slow this growth by introducing a number of reforms, including removing mandatory minimums for repeat drug offenders, reducing sentences for certain crimes, such as marijuana offenses, strengthening reentry programming, and requiring risk and needs evaluations for probation decisions. This legislation also required specialty courts to develop standards and created funding for community-based sanctions rather than incarceration.
These policies were projected to reduce the growth of the prison population by 870 inmates by 2023 and save Oregon up to $326 million over 10 years.
The state invested $35 million of averted corrections expenditures for public safety improvements, including investments in victims’ services, sheriff departments, community corrections as well as in law enforcement training and the creation of a justice reinvestment grant program to fund county public safety programs that reduce recidivism and prison utilization.
Despite crime rates remaining stable or even declining, Pennsylvania’s prison population increased 12 percent between 2007 and 2011, which led to overcrowded prisons and plans to build new facilities. The state joined the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in 2011 and enacted legislation in 2012 that created new sentencing guidelines to standardize sentencing decisions for probation and parole revocations, expanded recidivism-reducing programs, diverted low-level misdemeanants from prison, eliminated prerelease of parolees, revised parole board policies, and reduced processing delays. Pennsylvania restructured its $100 million community corrections system and between July 2014 and June 2015, recidivism for these centers dropped by 11.3 percentage points.
Pennsylvania has documented averted costs of $12.9 million and reinvested nearly $4 million in county diversion programs, victims’ services, the development of risk assessment tools, and probation services.
South Dakota joined the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in 2012 to address its prison population growth and increased spending on corrections at a time when the state had been facing a structural deficit in the state budget for several years and its crime rates were below the national average, unlike its incarceration rate which was far above.
South Dakota’s JRI reforms improved and expanded its behavioral health service and community supervision infrastructure, expanding drug and DUI courts, expanding substance abuse, mental health, and cognitive-behavioral treatment services, and adopting evidence-based supervision practices. JRI legislation also changed the criminal code to reserve prison space for the most serious offenders. It also created a tiered sentencing structure developed for drug crimes.
South Dakota has documented averted costs of more than $41 million, including $36 million in costs averted by not building a new prison, and allocated more than $9 million to fund training and pilot supervision programs, help local counties offset the costs of housing people who violate the terms of their probation supervision, and expand problem-solving courts and treatment programming.
West Virginia’s prison population increased 50 percent between 2002 and 2011, the highest percentage growth rate in the nation at that time. After previous efforts to reduce the prison population proved unsuccessful, West Virginia joined the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in 2011.
West Virginia’s JRI legislation based supervision intensity and treatment on assessment results, mandated reporting on program quality and evidence-based practices, established mandatory supervision for people convicted of violent offenses, developed intermediate sanctions, expanded access to substance abuse treatment programs, and required all judicial districts to establish drug courts.
Since 2014, the state has invested $9 million in substance abuse treatment and services and $700,000 to fund staff development and training related to justice reinvestment goals.
The following resources and reports explore the impact that problem-solving courts can and have had on the Justice Reinvestment Initiative process.
For more information about the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, including how to participate, please visit BJA’s JRI website at https://www.bja.gov/programs/justicereinvestment/index.html.