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Report: 17 States Reduce Recidivism, Save Billions By Reinvesting Wisely

A blueprint for better public safety, long-endorsed by reform advocates and scoffed at by tough-on-crimers, has emerged in 17 states that have managed to reduce recidivism since 2007: Stop building new prisons and reinvest the savings in cost-effective programs that work.

Funded by the U.S. Justice Department and the Pew Charitable Trusts, those states have partnered with the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSGJC) to lessen state spending on corrections—$52 billion nationwide in 2011—and "develop justice reinvestment strategies," according to an April 2013 report from the CSGJC.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, as the partnership is known, "ensures that policymaking is based on a comprehensive analysis of criminal justice data and the latest research about what works to reduce crime, and is tailored to the distinct public safety needs of the jurisdiction."

According to the report, Kentucky developed a three-year plan to rein­vest $30 million in expanding community-based intervention and treatment programs, probation and parole services, and drug-court and pretrial services. The plan is expected to save $422 million over the next decade.

In Ohio, $10 million over the next two years will be used to "strengthen probation supervision," which the state hopes will save $78 million over four years. Similar plans have been initiated in Hawaii, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

The other states that have successfully partnered with the CSGJC, the report says, are Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.

Even states that didn't take part in the initiative have been successful by following the same principles. In Texas, for instance, similar efforts have resulted in $1.5 billion in construction savings already and another $340 million in "averted operations costs," the report says.

States interested in cutting corrections costs while improving public safety, the CSGJC says, must first examine their own specific crime data, including information on arrests, convictions, sentencing, jails and prisons, and community supervision in order to "identify the key drivers of prison population growth" and prioritize reinvestments.

In Oklahoma, for example, the state's prisons were projected to cost an additional $249 million by 2021, until comprehensive data analysis redirected that funding toward "strategic law enforcement initiatives to reduce violent crime," according to the report.

Policymakers, the CSGJC says, must also "engage diverse constituencies," including prosecutors and public defenders, service providers, community leaders, law enforcement, victims' advocates and the formerly incarcerated to work with bipartisan criminal justice experts.

Once such a foundation is laid, states must "focus on the people most likely to reoffend." Ohio, according to the report, developed an offender risk-assessment tool that appears to be accurate in its predictive validity.

"Only 17% of those in the low-risk group," the report says, "were rearrested, while 71% of those in the very high-risk group were rearrested." Ohio, thus, has focused its resources on those most likely to reoffend.

North Carolina passed legislation in 2011 that requires supervision agencies "to concentrate resources on high-risk individuals and empowers probation officers to employ immediate sanctions to increase accountability in a manner that is both cost effective and proven to have a greater impact on reducing recidivism."

According to the CSGJC, North Carolina lawmakers project that the legislation will avert or save $560 million by 2017.

Similarly, with 4.8 million American adults—or 1 in 50—on probation or parole, states can strengthen community supervision by adopting a "Risk­Need-Responsivity" model, the report says.

Intensive probation for low-risk offenders, for instance, has been proven ineffective. Treatment and case planning, meanwhile, should be focused on an individual's criminogenic needs—or those "that contribute to the likelihood of reoffending"—in order to have a greater impact. And community supervision should ultimately reduce a former offender's "barriers to learning," the report says, "by addressing learning styles, reading abilities, cognitive impairments, and motivation when designing supervision and service strategies."

State criminal justice researchers must also identify which corrections and supervision practices are working best. The Washington State Institute of Public Policy, as cited in the report, published its audit of 545 adult corrections, juvenile corrections and prevention programs in 2012, finding that some programs "produce more favorable returns on investment."

Community supervision focusing on higher-risk individuals, for example, yielded a 31% reduction in recidivism in Washington, while supervision that proscribed no treatment for the offender led to zero decrease in recidivism, according to the audit. Using the audit's findings, state policymakers have since prioritized investment in programs "with demonstrated track records of success."

Finally, the CSGJC report recommended that states incentivize funding for municipalities that send fewer people to prison by channeling back to those local agencies the resources needed to "continue to cut crime and reduce recidivism."

In 2012, according to the report, Pennsylvania established a "performance-incentive funding system" that diverts offenders sentenced to short stints for misdemeanors and low-level felonies away from prison. New funding will then be committed to those counties that "voluntarily expand their local capacity to reduce the risk of recidivism among these offenders."

"As states work to reduce rising corrections costs and growing prison and supervision populations, they must also balance these challenges with the need to maintain or increase public safety," the CSGJC report concludes. States can address these challenges "with evidence-based, data-driven, non­partisan guidance on the most effective policies and programmatic investments for corrections systems."

The partnership's main principles, according to, has been successful enough to lead President Obama to earmark $85 million for further Justice Reinvestment Initiative research and outreach for the 2014 fiscal budget request.

Sources: "Lessons from the States: Reducing Recidivism and Curbing Corrections Costs Through Justice Reinvestment," Council of State Governments Justice Center, April 2013,;

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