Explosive growth in the number of people on probation or parole has propelled the population of the American corrections system to more than 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 U.S. adults, according to a report released today by the Pew Center on the States. The vast majority of these offenders live in the community, yet new data in the report finds that nearly 90 percent of state corrections dollars are spent on prisons. One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections examines the scale and cost of prison, jail, probation and parole in each of the 50 states (please see the 50 state factsheets), and provides a blueprint for states to cut both crime and spending by reallocating prison expenses to fund stronger supervision of the large number of offenders in the community.
Most states are facing serious budget deficits,” said Susan Urahn, managing director of The Pew Center on the States. “Every single one of them should be making smart investments in community corrections that will help them cut costs and improve outcomes.”
In the past two decades, state general fund spending on corrections increased by more than 300 percent, outpacing other essential government services from education, to transportation and public assistance. Only Medicaid spending has grown faster. Today, corrections imposes a national taxpayer burden of $68 billion a year. Despite this increased spending, recidivism rates have remained largely unchanged.
Research shows that strong community supervision programs for lower-risk, non-violent offenders not only cost significantly less than incarceration but, when appropriately resourced and managed, can cut recidivism by as much as 30 percent. Diverting these offenders to community supervision programs also frees up prison beds needed to house violent offenders, and can offer budget makers additional resources for other pressing public priorities.
One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides a detailed look at who is in the corrections system and which states have the highest populations of offenders behind bars and in the community. Key findings include:
The report also analyzes the cost of current sentencing and corrections policies. The National Association of State Budget Officers estimates that states spent a record $51.7 billion on corrections in FY2008, or 1 in every 15 general fund dollars. Adding local, federal and other funding brings the national correctional spending total to $68 billion.
While total correctional spending figures have been available before, new data collected by the Pew Center on the States for the report provides the first breakdown of correctional spending by prisons, probation and parole in the past seven years:
“Violent and career criminals need to be locked up, and for a long time. But our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project, which produced the report. “New community supervision strategies and technologies need to be strengthened and expanded, not scaled back. Cutting them may appear to save a few dollars, but it doesn't. It will fuel the cycle of more crime, more victims, more arrests, more prosecutions, and still more imprisonment.”
One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides states with a blueprint and specific case studies for strengthening their community corrections systems, saving money and reducing crime. Research-based recommendations include:
Launched in 2006 as a project of The Pew Center on the States, the Public Safety Performance Project seeks to help states advance fiscally sound, data-driven policies and practices in sentencing and corrections that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control corrections costs.
The Pew Charitable Trusts applies the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. Our Center on the States identifies and advances effective policy approaches to critical issues facing states. Online at pewstates.org.