This 2008 report discussed how states have added 1 million prison cells over the past 20 years, pushing the U.S. prison population to 2.3 million and the incarceration rate past 1 in 100 adults, by far the highest in the world. Still, more than 95 percent of inmates are eventually released back to the community. Add in offenders on probation, parole or other post-prison supervision and there are now 7.3 million American adults under correctional control on any given day. The corrections system costs states nearly $50 billion a year, and federal and local governments billions more.
That kind of money might be justified if it were dramatically cutting crime. But it's not. More than 40 percent of probationers do not complete their probation period successfully and more than half of parolees end up back behind bars within three years. While repeat offenders are major drivers of prison growth and costs, so are people who have broken the rules of their probation or parole release but who have not committed a new crime. Offenders who violate their supervision conditions account for a significant portion of prison admissions, reducing space available for violent and chronic criminals.
These high failure rates stem in large part from overwhelmed community supervision agencies. While national attention has focused on the dramatic rise of incarceration, the probation and parole populations have risen just as fast. The agencies responsible for supervising these 5 million offenders, however, haven't received nearly enough resources or authority to keep up.
More than 25 years of research has identified a series of policies and practices that can make substantial cuts in recidivism rates. Policy makers in several states have enacted reforms that help corrections agencies adopt these “evidence-based practices” by providing fiscal incentives, clearing obstacles, enhancing their authority, and tracking their results.
During 2008, the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Center on the States brought together leading policy makers, practitioners and researchers to review a wide range of these reforms. From the review and discussions with dozens of additional experts emerged a package of policy-level actions for state legislators and executives. The measures below were selected as part of the initial framework; others may be added as state and local leaders continue to innovate. And though individual sections would have impact if adopted alone, taken together they offer policy makers a powerful opportunity to help reduce victimization and control corrections costs.