Monday, December 12, 2011

Justice Reinvestment Approach Increases Public Safety, Cuts Millions in Spending

Robert Coombs, Council of State Governments Justice Center | Capitol Ideas | Nov - Dec 2011

Using Data and Expert Assistance, North Carolina and Ohio Enact Bipartisan Legislation

In June, state leaders from across the political spectrum in both North Carolina and Ohio came together in their respective states to enact comprehensive, data-driven legislation using a justice reinvestment approach. Both states received intensive technical assistance from The Council of State Governments Justice Center, in partnership with the Pew Center on the States and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The bills in both states will increase public safety and reduce crime by making probation more effective, increasing sentence lengths for certain high-risk property offenders or the most serious and violent offenders, and expanding sentencing options for nonviolent and first-time felony offenders.


Ohio’s criminal justice system faced population pressures that outstripped resources. The state’s prisons were 33 percent over capacity and projected to add another 2,800 people by 2015. Nearly half of prison admissions consisted of property and drug offenders who received short sentences followed by no supervision.

Outside the prison walls, Ohio’s probation system—a patchwork of 187 independent agencies—lacked consistent policies and minimum standards. No statewide data existed, making it difficult to know how many were on probation. Research showed some programs were increasing recidivism rates because they used no criteria to filter out participants who would not benefit from the intensive programs.

Over 18 months, a bipartisan, inter-branch working group reviewed exhaustive analyses prepared by the CSG Justice Center, and, drawing on that information, designed a 13-point policy framework to accomplish three core goals:
Require first-time property and drug offenders to serve probation terms and attend treatment;

Establish statewide criteria for community correction programs, prioritizing placement of people who would benefit most from community supervision and treatment; and

Establish statewide standards for probation to ensure consistency from county to county.
Sen. Bill Seitz sponsored the framework introduced as House Bill 86. The Ohio General Assembly passed the legislation with sweeping bipartisan majorities and on June 29, Gov. John Kasich signed the bill into law.
The new law is expected to avert all projected growth in Ohio’s prison population through 2015, helping the state avoid an estimated half-billion dollars in spending. In addition, the new statute eases prison crowding as the population gradually declines to levels last seen in 2007, generating $78 million in savings by 2015.

Moreover, the adoption of statewide risk assessment instruments means community supervision and treatment resources will be consistently targeted toward offenders who need them the most. The state will reinvest $20 million over four years to improve felony probation supervision, providing incentive funding for agencies that reduce recidivism.

North Carolina

With an increasing number of probation revocations and various sentence enhancements, North Carolina’s prison population was projected to grow 10 percent by 2020. Detailed analyses conducted by the CSG Justice Center showed that only 15 percent of people leaving prison received supervision and many high-risk offenders returned to the community unwatched. Furthermore, community-based treatment programs were poorly targeted, minimizing their impact on public safety.

With guidance from an inter-branch working group established by the governor and state leaders, CSG Justice Center staff developed policy options that included a new habitual breaking and entering offense and required post-release supervision for everyone convicted of a felony. One recommendation was that the state prioritize supervision resources for high-risk individuals and empower probation officers to implement swift and certain sanctions. By focusing existing treatment resources on people who would benefit the most from them, the law concentrated on reducing recidivism.

Rep. W. David Guice introduced the policies as House Bill 642, The Justice Reinvestment Act, which passed with near unanimous bipartisan support and was signed by Gov. Bev Perdue on June 23.
Since then, the state has shuttered two prisons and expects to save more than 3,600 beds by the 2017 fiscal year. The reduction in the population translates into more than $560 million saved over six years, including $267 million in avoided costs and $293 million in savings from reduced costs. These savings position the state to reinvest more than $4 million annually to expand community-based treatment programs for people on supervision.

Looking Ahead

The CSG Justice Center continues to work with Oklahoma and Hawaii as Justice Reinvestment states. Like North Carolina, many offenders in Oklahoma go without supervision and the prison population seems poised to climb. Hawaii has set the goal of managing its prison population in order to move all of the state’s offenders out of mainland prisons and back to in-state facilities.

The CSG Justice Center’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a partnership with the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice. The CSG Justice Center has provided data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 14 states.

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