By the CSG Justice Center
The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center is currently engaged in justice reinvestment efforts in several states across the country. Here are some recent highlights of the work that is underway.
To address a rapidly growing prison population, legislative leaders in Arkansas began the justice reinvestment process in 2015. With the help of the CSG Justice Center, the state’s interbranch Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force developed policy proposals based on findings from extensive data analysis.
In December 2016, the task force approved a series of proposals that included implementing sanction caps for people who commit technical violations or low-level, nonviolent crimes while on probation and parole and the creation of specialized crisis intervention units to house people with mental illnesses in lieu of jail.
The proposals were incorporated into legislation filed in January 2017 by Senator Jeremy Hutchinson and are expected to be brought forward for committee and floor votes in February. If enacted, the policies are projected to prevent $250 million in corrections-related costs by 2023.
Governor Asa Hutchinson mentioned the state’s justice reinvestment efforts during his State of the State speech last month, saying that Arkansas must continue to examine its criminal justice system to ensure its policies are “balanced between public safety and giving those a second chance in life who have fulfilled their responsibilities to society.”
Governor Hutchinson also included $5 million in his executive budget proposal for the specialized crisis intervention units and training for law enforcement to help improve their interactions with people who are experiencing mental health crises.
Read local coverage of the justice reinvestment efforts in Arkansas on KNWA.
In an effort to make better use of prison beds while reducing the number of people on probation in Georgia—which has the highest probation rate in the country—state leaders began the justice reinvestment process in July 2016.
The Sentencing and Probation Subcommittees of the state’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform met to review data analyzed by the CSG Justice Center and to develop policy proposals.
The proposed policies—which focus on holding people accountable with appropriate probation sentence lengths, focusing supervision resources on people during the first year or two of probation supervision, and establishing incentives for successful completion of probation terms for people convicted of certain offenses—are forecasted to reduce the projected felony probation population growth by up to 43,000 people and reduce the projected prison population growth by 2,627 beds by FY2022, which could potentially avert about $245 million in costs.
The subcommittees approved the proposals in November 2016, and those that require legislative action will be included in a larger criminal justice related bill set to be introduced in February.
Seeking ways to reduce recidivism, improve community supervision, and enhance access to behavioral health services, in early 2016, Massachusetts state leaders partnered with the CSG Justice Center to analyze aspects of the state’s criminal justice system.
Over the course of the year, the CSG Justice Center presented its findings during meetings with the state’s CSG Justice Center Working Group and Steering Committee. As a result of those meetings, legislators will be reviewing a group of policy options in late February that are focused on increasing participation in recidivism-reduction programs during incarceration, strengthening community supervision policies and practices, and enhancing treatment for people who have serious behavioral health needs and are at a high risk of reoffending.
Read local coverage of the justice reinvestment efforts in Massachusetts in The Republican.
Beginning in 2016, Montana’s Commission on Sentencing worked with the CSG Justice Center to develop more than a dozen policy options, including proposals that would cut corrections spending by expanding the use of diversion programs and limiting the term of incarceration for people who commit technical probation and parole violations.
Starting in December, legislation incorporating these policy proposals was introduced in the Montana Senate and House. As of early February 2017, parts of the 12-bill package were passed in the Senate and are now being considered by the House.
The proposed policies focus on limiting incarceration for probation and parole violations, allowing conditional discharge for people who are compliant with the conditions of their probation or parole, the professionalization of the parole board, establishing a state-funded pretrial services grant program and diversion grant program for counties, and developing a certification process for behavioral health peer support specialists.
Last month, the CSG Justice Center and a bipartisan group of state legislators held a press conference to promote the release of the final justice reinvestment report.
If enacted, the bill package has the potential to cut nearly $70 million in corrections-related costs by 2023.
Read local coverage of the state’s justice reinvestment efforts in the Great Falls Tribune.
After first undertaking justice reinvestment efforts in 2012, Pennsylvania leaders asked the CSG Justice Center to come back in 2016 to help the state further reduce its prison population and reinvest some of the more than $100 million in projected averted costs into public safety strategies that strengthen probation and parole supervision and utilize alternatives to incarceration that have been shown to reduce recidivism.
Following a year of public meetings in which members of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group reviewed the findings of the CSG Justice Center’s data analysis, the group unanimously approved a series of policy proposals in December. Those proposals seek to eliminate the inefficiencies that cause the state to hold people with short sentences to state prison several months longer than needed, have the state invest in county probation supervision to reduce recidivism, and establish processes to explore changes to pretrial and sentencing policies.
Legislation incorporating these policies is expected to be introduced in 2017. If enacted, the policy proposals would allow Pennsylvania to potentially avert more than $100 million in corrections-related costs by 2022.
Read local coverage of the state’s justice reinvestment efforts in The Patriot.
Seeking to prevent a projected 36-percent increase in its prison population by 2022, North Dakota lawmakers are considering legislation that includes policies resulting from the justice reinvestment process.
The policies emphasize the use of probation for people who commit nonviolent, low-level felonies and the expansion of behavioral health and substance use treatment programs to help reduce recidivism. If the policies are adopted, the state will be in a position to potentially avoid spending more than $60 million on contract prison bed costs over the next five years.
In his first State of the State address, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum noted that many people are in jail because of crimes stemming from substance use.
“Jail time without rehab is not a cure for addiction,” he said. “We need to start treating addiction like the chronic disease that it is. By moving resources upstream, we will save lives and save money.”
Rhode Island justice reinvestment legislation that was not passed during the 2016 legislative session has been reintroduced in 2017. The Senate voted unanimously in support of the bills, which are currently under consideration by the General Assembly.
As part of the justice reinvestment efforts, the 2016 state budget allocated more than $800,000 for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections to bolster and improve probation services. At the same time, the Superior Court adopted changes to court rules and sentencing benchmarks that would increase the standard of proof for probation violations, establish a presumptive probation term of three years for people convicted of certain offenses, and create a mechanism by which people who have complied with the conditions of their probation for three years may petition the court for shortened terms.
The bills require the use of risk and needs screens and assessments as well as behavioral health assessments to help inform the intensity of probation and parole supervision, correctional treatment and classification, and special conditions for supervision; allow for the creation of a Superior Court diversion program; utilize evidence-based practices for batterers’ intervention programs; and expand access for crime victims to receive compensation for a broader range of expenses associated with the crimes committed against them.
In her address to the Senate on the opening day of the 2017 legislative session, president of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed listed justice reinvestment among the chamber’s priorities.
“Justice reinvestment saves money through lower incarceration rates, makes communities safer by making offenders less likely to reoffend, and has the potential to transform lives of individuals who need treatment, not incarceration,” she said.
Read local coverage about the progress of Justice Reinvestment in Rhode Island in the Warwick Post.