Safer Communities at Less Cost Part II

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Criminal justice reform: The solutions

In part I of this series, we examined the state of criminal justice systems across the nation, and the need for reform in many of the states. Decades of a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality have left criminal justice systems overburdened. With an ever-growing portion of the population behind bars, costs of maintaining the current system have grown exponentially, and states are beginning to realize the status quo simply cannot be sustained.

Beginning with the sweeping reforms passed in Texas in 2005, legislatures across the nation are looking for evidence-based solutions to the problem of corrections spending. It is clear that simply spending more is not only no longer possible but also ineffective. Instead, policymakers are seeking solutions which would make a more efficient use of limited resources while making communities safer. Together, the following ALEC policies decrease correction spending while keeping our communities safe.

The Recidivism Reduction Act utilizes risk-needs assessment tools to assign appropriate levels of supervision and corrections programming to offenders.

In Kentucky, the Public Safety and Offender Accountability Act of 2011 contributes to an estimated savings of $422 million over ten years, which will allow Kentucky to reinvest funds in efforts to reduce recidivism.

The Earned Compliance Credit Act reduces the time low-risk, nonviolent offenders are on active supervision for each month they are in full compliance with the terms of their supervision. This allows probation and parole officers to focus staff, services and sanctions on higher-risk offenders who are more likely to commit another crime.

Arizona’s compliance legislation has decreased the number of probationers convicted for new felonies by 31 percent, and the overall number of probation revocations by 28 percent in just two years.

The Swift and Certain Sanctions Act ensures that offenders who violate their terms of parole face immediate and definite consequences in proportion to the violation. Research indicates that providing offenders with such guaranteed consequences to parole violation can improve offender compliance and reduce the number of parole violators sent to costly prison cells.

As part of its reforms, Texas instituted a policy of administrative sanctions which reduced the number of crimes committed by parolees across the state by 8.5 percent.

The Community Corrections Performance Measurement Act helps provide key stakeholders with systematic performance measures that produce regular, objective and quantitative feedback on how well agencies are performing. By measuring outcomes, corrections agencies can most efficiently allocate their staff and resources.

The measurement requirements included in Arkansas’s comprehensive criminal justice reforms will contribute to a projected reduction of Arkansas’ prison population by 3,200 inmates as well as an averted $875 million in prison costs over the next ten years.

The Community Corrections Performance Incentive Act aligns incentives of state and local governments to protect public safety and maintain corrections costs by awarding funds to local probation departments that implement evidence-based practices proven to reduce recidivism.

In its first year of implementation, California’s incentive funding program led to an estimated 23% reduction in revocations which resulted in state savings of $179 million, $87.5 million of which was reinvested in evidence based programs and practices.

The Resolution in Support of Victim-Offender Mediation calls for a face-to-face meeting, in the presence of a trained individual, between victims and low-risk, first-time offenders.  Victim-offender mediations provide greater closure and restitution for victims, reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars by allowing victims and offenders to settle out of court.

The Civil Liability Relief for Employers Hiring Ex-Offenders immunizes employers who hire nonviolent, non-sex ex-offenders from being sued solely on the basis of hiring an ex-offender. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, ex-offenders who are employed are three to five times less likely to reoffend.

These policies, based on years of research and evidence-based practices, outline the solution to bloated prison systems and criminal justice costs in many states. Now is the time for states to realize being truly “tough on crime” means investing limited state resources in programs shown to increase safety and decrease need for spending—now and in the future. Thanks to the Corrections and Reentry Working Group, ALEC is ready to help states embrace this new vision for criminal justice systems.

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