In an Aug. 12 speech to the American Bar Association, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a series of policy changes aimed at slowing the growth of the federal prison system. He acknowledged the leading role that states have played in paving the way for more effective criminal justice strategies.
"Over the past few years, nearly half the states have taken substantial steps to rein in the size and cost of their corrections systems. Often with unanimous votes, state leaders have shortened terms behind bars for lower-level offenders or diverted them from prison altogether. By enacting evidence-based prison alternatives, states are reducing their recidivism rates and their incarceration rates at the same time."
–Adam Gelb, director, Pew’s public safety performance project
"In recent years, no fewer than 17 states—supported by the department, and led by governors and legislators of both parties—have directed funding away from prison construction and toward evidence-based programs and services, like treatment and supervision, that are designed to reduce recidivism," Holder told the audience, adding that "reinvestment and serious reform are improving public safety and saving precious resources."
Several of these states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, South Carolina, and South Dakota, have participated in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a collaboration between the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and Pew's public safety performance project. These states have enacted sentencing and corrections policies to protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs.
In a recent Q&A with Pew, governors from four states discussed the challenges they overcame to achieve consensus and enact policies that provide a better public safety return on state corrections dollars. Listen to governors talk about their states' corrections and sentencing reforms.
Although cost savings are an important factor in state policy deliberations, more significant motivators are: the success of states such as Texas in reducing both prison growth and crime; strong public support from voters, crime victim representatives, and leading conservatives; and, most fundamentally, growing awareness of research-based alternatives that cost less than prison and that have been shown by research to be more effective at reducing recidivism.