Criminal Justice Guide to 2021 State of the State Speeches

Last year, states across the country faced unexpected and urgent challenges due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these pressing priorities, this year’s State of the State addresses show that criminal justice remains a key area of focus for governors from states of all sizes and across the political spectrum. Although most states are now facing budget shortfalls as a result of the pandemic, many of their criminal justice priorities will help them reduce recidivism and save costs while advancing public safety and second chances.

Among their top concerns, many governors have focused on issues such as the following:

  • Law enforcement reforms, including training, community engagement, and compensation
  • Addressing racial inequities through racial justice task forces and examining racial bias in arrests and sentencing
  • Supporting reentry efforts by providing second chance employment opportunities and strengthening probation and parole

Many governors also outlined plans for mental health and substance use treatment options. These mentions are included because of the prevalence of people in the criminal justice system with behavioral health needs. Expanding community treatment and services can ultimately reduce criminal justice costs and recidivism by preventing avoidable contact with the justice system and connecting people to the care they need.

Justice Issues Covered by Governors in Their State of the State Remarks (as of February 12, 2021)

Law Enforcement14 mentions
Racial Bias12
Behavioral Health9
Reentry and Recidivism Reduction6
Violent Crime6
Substance Use Treatment3
Criminal Justice Reform2
Death Penalty2
Prison Environment and Staffing1

Hover over states in the map below to see excerpts from governors’ 2021 State of the State speeches:

Photo credits: Kyle Glenn via Unsplash and Iowa PBS

About the Authors

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Director of Governmental Affairs, Finance, Operations, and Administration
Jamal Nelson cultivates and maintains relationships with members of Congress and the administration and acts as a liaison to various coalitions and groups to effectively implement the legislative priorities of the CSG Justice Center. Before joining the CSG Justice Center
in 2009, Jamal served as deputy director of intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce, where he worked on international trade issues. Jamal received his BS in political science from Southern Connecticut State University.
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  • Leslie Griffin
    Director of Content Strategy, Communications and External Affairs
    Leslie Griffin leads the strategic creation, delivery, and governance of CSG Justice Center content. She oversees the types of content produced, the structure of that content, and the standards and guidelines needed to ensure quality and assess performance. Prior to
    joining the CSG Justice Center, Leslie had an 18-year career in educational publishing overseeing the development of literature textbooks for grades 6–12. Leslie received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College with a concentration in English and creative writing.
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  • Image for:
    Former Senior Media Relations Manager, Communications and External Affairs
    Brenna Callahan drove strategic media relations and public affairs to advance organization-wide initiatives. Prior to joining the CSG Justice Center, Brenna managed national communications for a civic engagement nonprofit. She previously developed and managed a communications and economic equity policy
    portfolio for Mayor Marty Walsh’s Office of Women’s Advancement at the City of Boston. Brenna also worked in both development and operations roles at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, where she managed agency-wide programming. Brenna earned a BA in English from Boston College and an MPA at Suffolk University.
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