A report released today by the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections suggests that after decades of increases in corrections spending, states are trying something new. The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course is based on a two-part investigation that sought to gauge the current status of states’ corrections policies: Vera staff surveyed state officials about their planned corrections spending for fiscal year 2011 and reviewed states’ recent corrections-related legislative initiatives. The results show officials planning to spend less even as they initiate changes aimed at shoring up public safety.
“In what may portend a new era of sentencing and corrections policy, many states are cutting corrections appropriations, which were long seen as untouchable because of the perceived impact on public safety, and investing in ‘smart on crime’ solutions,” says Peggy McGarry, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections. “For those of us who have worked in the sentencing and corrections field for many years, these changes—should they persist—are astonishing.”
In a departure from decades of funding increases, the combined corrections appropriations of 44 states that responded to Vera’s survey are down for fiscal year 2011. Pennsylvania was on of the few states to increase their expenditures a 4.9-percent increase.
Although the total reduction is just 1.05 percent, this represents an important change. At the same time, states have been pursuing legislative initiatives that include investments in evidence-based innovations for reducing the incarcerated population, such as reducing prison terms for nonviolent offenders, relaxing mandatory-minimum sentences, and creating drug courts and other problem-solving courts.
According to the report’s authors, two factors are driving these developments. First, ongoing budget pressures are compelling officials to seek savings whenever safely possible. At the same time, states are drawing on decades of research and using identified policies and practices that can be counted on to yield positive results.
“As they cut corrections appropriations, state legislators and other policy makers are increasingly making policy choices that are based on research, analysis, and evaluation, with the goal of making more effective use of limited funds,” says McGarry. “The message has finally become clear: It is possible to reduce corrections spending while also enhancing public safety.”
As a complement to the study, the Center on Sentencing and Corrections has created an interactive online resource highlighting data from the new report. The page features a map and chart illustrating changes in individual states’ corrections spending from fiscal year 2010 to 2011, including sources, such as emergency stimulus funds disbursed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.