WASHINGTON, D.C.—A bipartisan group of congressional and state leaders and experts on criminal justice policy came together last week to examine how states are changing their crime and corrections policies through “justice reinvestment”–an approach that uses data-driven, fiscally responsible policies and practices to increase public safety and reduce recidivism and corrections spending.
In the past 20 years, spending on corrections has grown at a faster rate than every other state budget category except Medicaid, increasing from more than $12 billion in 1988 to more than $50 billion in 2008. The Pew Center on the States reports that more than 1 in 100 American adults are now behind bars.
Despite this tremendous expenditure on prisons, recidivism rates remain high. In many states, half of all individuals released from state prison are reincarcerated within three years.
“It’s no secret that recidivism is costly and is overwhelming our prison system,” said Congressman Alan B. Mollohan, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Bureau of Prisons. “In a series of hearings our subcommittee held last year on prisoner reentry, we heard from a wide range of professionals who delivered a common message–that recidivism reduction is a challenge that we can meet and must meet.”
“The federal government must look to innovative state, local, and faith-based programs to reform our broken corrections system. As the former chairman and current ranking member of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds the Justice Department, I am deeply concerned about the recidivism crisis that is straining our corrections system at all levels. This summit will, for the first time, bring together the best leaders and programs in corrections reform,” said Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA).
Congressmen Mollohan (D-WV) and Wolf (R-VA) were joined at the summit by their colleagues Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), in addition to leaders from the U.S. Department of Justice and experts in state government, law enforcement, courts, corrections and community reentry. The summit was convened by the Pew Center on the States, the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
Several states’ experiences with justice reinvestment were highlighted at today’s summit. In Texas, for example, the state’s prison population in 2007 was projected to grow by more than 14,000 people in the following five years. Lawmakers, relying on justice reinvestment analyses, enacted policies to avert the anticipated growth and saved $443 million–of which more than $200 million was redirected to strengthen probation and parole and to expand treatment services. Since these policy changes, the prison population has stopped growing, allowing the state to cancel plans for additional prisons. These developments occurred while crime rates in nearly every major urban area in Texas have declined and the overall state crime rate has fallen at about the same rate as the national average.
The justice reinvestment approach has gained broad bipartisan support and unprecedented attention on Capitol Hill. In November 2009, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), together with Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA), introduced The Criminal Justice Reinvestment Act of 2009 (S.2772/HR.4080).
The act authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to make grants to state and local governments and tribes to help jurisdictions
- analyze criminal justice trends to understand what is driving the growth in their local jail and prison populations
- develop tailored policy options to reduce corrections expenditures and increase the effectiveness of current spending and reinvestment that can make communities safe
- implement the proposed policies and programs
- measure the impact of these changes and develop accountability measures.
The legislation reflects the strong bipartisan support for expanding justice reinvestment beyond the work currently being conducted in several states.
The Justice Center, in partnership with the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, has led initiatives in 10 states, with additional support from a range of public/private partners that include the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Open Society Institute and the states receiving intensive technical assistance. The Public Welfare Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, state-based foundations and states themselves have contributed to this effort as well.
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