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In 2010, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) launched a grant program that goes well beyond the standard infusion of federal dollars to local communities. Based on work that BJA and The Pew Charitable Trusts started funding years earlier, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative brings nonprofit technical-assistance providers together with states and localities to pursue a data-driven approach to corrections policy that seeks to cut spending and reinvest savings in practices that have been shown by research to improve safety and hold offenders accountable.

To date, more than a dozen states have participated in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and worked with the Vera Institute of Justice, the Council of State Governments, or The Pew Charitable Trusts to analyze their state-specific data, identify the drivers of their corrections populations, and develop policies that aim to reduce spending and generate savings. Once the policies are passed into law, these jurisdictions continue to receive technical assistance to help with implementation and ensure that the changes and investments achieve their projected outcomes. 

What this means in practice is described in Vera’s new report, Justice Reinvestment in Action: The Delaware Model. In 2012, after a year of analysis and consensus-building, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed SB 226, introducing a sea change to the way the state justice agencies conduct business. At every step in the process—pretrial, sentencing, prison, and supervision—SB 226 requires enhanced decision making based not only on professional judgment but also data analysis and empirically based risk and needs assessment instruments. If implemented correctly, up to $27.3 million could be available for reinvestment over the next five years.

Continued and increased support for the Justice Reinvestment Initiative—in the form of technical assistance and seed funding—is critical to making these methods available to additional jurisdictions and ensuring that the states realize their projected savings and enhance public safety. The future of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative looks bright, with President Obama including $85 million for this effort in his proposed 2014 budget, an increase of $79 million over last year's appropriation.

Implementing evidence-based practices and enabling justice agencies to integrate data analysis into their operations in an ongoing and sustainable way is hard work that takes time, patience, up-front investment, and strong leadership. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative builds and develops the leadership and contributes to the initial investment. Delaware is just one of a dozen success stories. The hard work continues.