Yesterday on Capitol Hill, Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D-WV) joined Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) to discuss their states’ progress in reducing recidivism and cutting corrections costs. The lawmakers attributed their successes to state-level “smart on crime” policies at that support individuals’ successful reentry to the community, in addition to federal bipartisan and collaborative efforts such as the Second Chance Act and the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.
Introduced by Stephen Canterbury, Administrative Director of the Courts of West Virginia, Governor Tomblin spoke about how undertaking a justice reinvestment approach has helped lower the prison population in West Virginia by 1,000 people and reduce overcrowding in jails by 50 percent. Justice reinvestment reforms included strengthening community supervision practices and increasing access to community-based treatment.
Governor Corbett highlighted efforts in Pennsylvania to shift corrections costs to the “front end” of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement and diversion programs such as drug courts and mental health courts. Congressman Fattah echoed the governor’s points and discussed the state’s use of evidence-based practices to focus corrections resources on high-risk individuals, diverting low-risk individuals to treatment. Congressman Fattah and Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, a Council of State Governments Justice Center board member, also emphasized prioritizing the needs of children of incarcerated parents.
Pennsylvania and Georgia are among the eight states featured in Reducing Recidivism: States Deliver Results, a new report released yesterday by the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC). The report includes examples of key reforms undertaken by the states in recent years to impact recidivism and other criminal justice outcomes. In highlighting Georgia’s recent reforms, Congressman Johnson focused on rehabilitation and guidance for individuals in prison to help them succeed upon reentry to the community.
Senators Cornyn and Portman both discussed bipartisan legislation introduced last November to support further recidivism-reduction efforts across the country. Senator Cornyn co-authored the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). A champion of the Second Chance Act of 2008, Senator Portman introduced the Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013 with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Congressmen Danny Davis (D-IL), and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI).
Denise O’Donnell, Director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, commended the NRRC report and the states represented in the panel. Director O’Donnell also announced developments in the Second Chance Act and Justice Reinvestment Initiative grant programs. Three states will be selected for additional funding through the Second Chance Act Statewide Recidivism Reduction program, and Alabama, Nebraska, and Washington State will be launching justice reinvestment projects this month.