Governors Highlight Justice Reinvestment in State of the State Addresses Across the Country

February 11, 2015

During their recent State of the State addresses, governors across the country talked about criminal justice reforms in their states, including justice reinvestment, which is a data-driven approach to reduce corrections spending and reinvest a portion of the savings in strategies that can reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley laid out the state’s dire need for effective corrections reform and focused on the recent effort state leaders have taken study the state’s criminal justice system using a justice reinvestment approach.

“As a conservative leader, there are three things that are important to me. Upholding the rule of law, using our state resources wisely and efficiently, and preserving the autonomy of state government. In Alabama, the problems that have plagued our prison system for decades have put those principles at risk. The rule of law must be observed and those who break the law should be held accountable for their actions.

The blunt facts are alarming. Alabama’s state-operated prison facilities—the most overcrowded in the United States—are operating at more than 195-percent capacity. We have been forced to rely on short-term fixes that have proven costly, dangerous and disorganized. The result has been an overall increasingly inefficient system.

That is why over the past year, Alabama lawmakers, leaders in the criminal justice system, local and state judges, district attorneys, victims’ rights groups, and many others have collaborated as part of the Prison Reform Task Force to develop a new plan to reform our prison system.

It won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be cheap. But we cannot ignore and under-fund what is an alarming and dangerous problem that must be addressed.

As leaders of this state, chosen by the people we serve, we are elected to fix problems, not pass them on to someone else, to a future generation. The problems we must tackle may have been decades in the making, but it is up to us to solve them today. We must have the insight to recognize what HAS to be done, and the willingness, the desire, the courage, the boldness to do it.”

With help from the CSG Justice Center and input from stakeholders from across Alabama’s criminal justice system, the task force has developed a proposed policy framework to strengthen community-based supervision and treatment; prioritize prison space for violent and dangerous offenders; provide supervision to every person released from prison; and improve notification to victims regarding releases from prison. Lawmakers will consider the task force’s policy proposals during the current legislative session.

Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter highlighted his administration’s progress in establishing more effective community supervision practices and reducing recidivism through implementation of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Act.

“I’m proud of the legislature, our courts, and our executive agencies [for] their unprecedented collaboration in enacting and now implementing the Justice Reinvestment Initiative or JRI. This is an effort started two years ago by the good chairmen of our House and Senate Judiciary committees.

Last year’s overwhelming legislative support for Senate Bill 1357 and hard work during the past year by our courts, Department of Correction, and Commission of Pardons and Parole has resulted in an outstanding set of administrative rules for you to consider during this session.

They spell out in detail how we can improve public safety, reduce recidivism, and lower the costs associated with locking up offenders by prioritizing and refining our post-release supervision efforts with swift, certain, and graduated sanctions. I appreciate your continuing support as our Justice Reinvestment efforts move from careful planning to effective on-the-ground implementation.”

In March 2014, Idaho enacted justice reinvestment legislation that includes policies to strengthen supervision practices and programs; tailor sanctions and parole decision-making; and assess, track, and monitor recidivism-reduction strategies. These policies are projected to avert up to an estimated $288 million in correctional facility construction and operations costs between 2015 and 2019.

In his State of the State address, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin highlighted his administration’s progress in expanding access to substance use treatment for individuals on supervision, a key component of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Act, which includes policies designed to reduce corrections spending and increase public safety.

“The communities we live in are more than just places where we put down roots, start a new business, or watch our children grow. They are places we call home, and they must be places where we feel safe. In May, we announced a significant step toward reducing prison overcrowding and drug abuse. Since then, we’ve reinvested nearly $2.5 million in community-based substance abuse treatment and recovery services across the state.

Tonight, I’m pleased to announce the investment of an additional $660,000 to expand treatment options across the state, including new intensive outpatient services in the Northern and Eastern Panhandles.

In 2013, we worked together to embrace the Justice Reinvestment Act and developed a research-based plan to rehabilitate those in our justice system. These reforms maximize our corrections dollars and lower the financial burden on our overextended prison system while protecting our state’s finances. Through our landmark justice reinvestment efforts, we’ve learned data-driven programs do work.”

As part of the state’s justice reinvestment effort, analyses revealed that the number of people on supervision who were revoked to prison in West Virginia increased by 47 percent between 2005 and 2011, representing the single largest driver of growth in the state’s prison population. Substance use issues were a leading factor for people who were failing to meet the conditions of supervision. These policies are projected to avert up to an estimated $287 million in correctional facility construction and operations costs between 2014 and 2018.

In Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal discussed his state’s justice reinvestment effort as part of a multistep approach to improving the state’s criminal justice system. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin referenced the need to implement policies developed during her state’s justice reinvestment effort. South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard underscored how his state’s justice reinvestment effort is leading to better outcomes on probation and parole supervision and an increased number of specialty courts. South Dakota’s prison population remains flat and is below projections. And in Nebraska, where state leaders are considering a package of justice reinvestment policies, Governor Pete Ricketts identified comprehensive corrections reform as a priority and announced his intention to work with the legislative and judicial branches to address sentencing, mental health, and other criminal justice issues.


This project was supported by Grant No. 2013-ZB-BX-K002 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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