Justice Reinvestment Initiative

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Justice reinvestment is a data-driven approach to corrections policy that seeks to cut spending and reinvest savings in practices that have been empirically shown to improve safety and hold offenders accountable. As part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, Vera provides technical assistance to states seeking to apply the approach to their local prison and supervision systems.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a project cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. Participating jurisdictions

  • collect and analyze data on factors that increase corrections populations and costs;
  • identify and implement changes that address costs and achieve better outcomes; and
  • measure the fiscal and public safety impacts of those changes.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative provides technical assistance and financial support to states, counties, cities, and tribal authorities that seek to reform their criminal justice systems using a data-driven approach. The initiative has two phases:

  • Phase I involves engaging leaders and key stakeholders, conducting a comprehensive analysis of criminal justice data to identify the key factors that contribute to the corrections population growth, and developing policy proposals to reduce costs and improve public safety.
  • Phase II supports the implementation of policy proposals identified in Phase I. This includes helping relevant agencies implement the policies and providing limited funding and technical assistance to advance the jurisdiction’s goals and desired outcomes. It also includes measuring the fiscal and public safety impact of the policies implemented.

Currently, Vera works in Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

For more information about how to apply to and participate in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, visit the BJA website or contact Nancy Fishman at Vera.

Justice Reinvestment in Action: The Delaware Model
04/17/2013
When Delaware Governor Jack Markell convened the Justice Reinvestment Task Force in the summer of 2011, the state was facing a high violent crime rate, crowded prisons, and budget shortfalls. By the time he signed the Justice Reinvestment Act (Senate Bill 226) in August 2012, Delaware had joined a...
02/06/2014
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In his recent State of the State address, Delaware Governor Jack Markell laid out his criminal justice policy priorities for 2014, charting a path forward that would strengthen the Delaware justice system by piloting a pretrial supervision program, advancing judicial discretion, and removing...
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02/03/2014
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Billions of dollars are spent in the U.S. every year to incarcerate the largest prison population in the world, and with corrections costs soaring, more and more states are embracing justice reinvestment, an approach to criminal justice intended to lower costs, reduce prison populations, and...
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08/09/2013
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$3.3 billion. That’s the total projected savings to be generated by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) across 17 states, according to a new report from the Urban Institute. As a technical assistance provider under JRI, the Vera Institute of Justice works with states to analyze their criminal...
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04/17/2013
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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...
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map of delawareUnder Phase II of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI )—a project cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States—Vera is providing technical assistance to Arkansas to support implementation of The Public Safety Improvement Act, commonly known as Act 570, which was passed in 2011.

Arkansas embarked on JRI Phase I in 2010, when it established the bipartisan, inter-branch Arkansas Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections to analyze the state’s sentencing and corrections data and identify the factors driving Arkansas’s prison population growth, which had doubled during the past 20 years. The working group found that sentencing and supervision practices had resulted in more non-violent offenders going to prison, offenders were given longer sentences, and there were delays in paroling them to community supervision. The policy recommendations made by the working group addressed these drivers, and they ultimately resulted in Act 570. Among other changes, the legislation requires the Department of Community Correction (DCC) to use evidence-based practices, establishes a performance incentive funding grant program, improves government efficiency and effectiveness through data collection and performance measurement, and modifies sentencing laws.

In July 2011, Vera started providing technical assistance to the Arkansas DCC to develop a cross-agency implementation plan and identify performance measures to track the fiscal and public safety impact of the implemented policies. Collaborating with Vera, the state submitted a seed funding request to BJA and secured resources for capacity-building projects, such as training on evidence-based practices, developing the performance incentive grant program, and initiating a place-based supervision pilot.  Moving forward, Vera will monitor the state’s progress, oversee the use of the seed funding, and provide technical assistance as implementation continues.

map of delawareUnder Phase II of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI)—a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA)—Vera is providing technical assistance to Delaware to support implementation of Delaware Senate Bill 226, which was signed into law in 2012.

Delaware began its justice reinvestment efforts in the summer of 2011, when Governor Jack Markell established the Delaware Justice Reinvestment Task Force through executive order. Governor Markell charged the task force with conducting a comprehensive examination of the state’s criminal justice system, focusing on the factors that are contributing to the size of the corrections population, which includes both pretrial detainees and sentenced individuals. Although the number of people in the state’s prisons has remained relatively constant in recent years—with corrections spending even declining somewhat—the state’s facilities, many of which are aging and in need of repair, are operating near or over capacity. Consequently, policy makers faced a choice: expand prison capacity or invest in alternatives such as pretrial services and community-based supervision and treatment.

In Phase I, Vera assisted the task force in analyzing the factors driving the prison population and assessed the capacity and quality of institutional and community-based programs. The task force found that individuals awaiting trial made up a large proportion of the prison population, that supervision practices resulted in a large number of probationers spending time in prison, and that Delaware prisoners serve long sentences with limited opportunity to earn reductions in their sentences even when they have made significant steps toward rehabilitation. Based on these findings, Vera helped the task force develop a statewide policy framework to address these drivers and ensure that scarce justice resources are invested wisely to reduce recidivism and enhance public safety.

Legislators translated these policy recommendations into Delaware Senate Bill 226. Among other changes, the legislation requires implementation of an objective assessment instrument that gauges defendants’ risk of flight and re-arrest to help magistrates make informed decisions about the conditions of pretrial release, makes available objective risk and needs assessment for judges’ use in sentencing, supports improved community supervision practices, and creates incentives for individuals who are incarcerated and under supervision to complete evidence-based programs designed to reduce recidivism.

In October 2012, Vera began working with the Delaware Department of Correction, Justice of the Peace Court, and the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop a cross-agency implementation plan and identify performance measures to track the fiscal and public safety impact of the implemented policies. Collaborating with Vera, the state will submit a seed funding request to BJA to secure resources for capacity-building projects that will kick start the policies enacted in Phase I. Vera will continue to provide technical assistance throughout the implementation process.

For more information about this work in Delaware, contact Juliene James.

As part of Phase II of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI ), funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, Vera is providing technical assistance to Georgia to support implementation of H.B. 1176, which was passed in 2012. Georgia embarked on JRI Phase I in 2011 when it established the bipartisan, inter-branch Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians (Council) to analyze Georgia’s sentencing and corrections data and identify the factors driving Georgia’s prison population growth—projected to grow 8 percent over five years at a cost of $264 million.1 The council found that drug and property offenders accounted for almost 60 percent of prison admissions,2 and the average length of stay in prison for drug and property crimes had more than tripled between 1990 and 2010.3 The council also found that judges had few feasible sentencing options other than prison, and probation and parole agencies lacked the authority and resources to supervise offenders effectively in the community.

The policy recommendations made by the council addressed these drivers, and they ultimately resulted in H.B. 1176. Among other changes, the legislation requires the Board of Corrections to ensure the use of evidence-based practices, including a risk and needs assessment tool in supervision and treatment programs; requires the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to establish policies and practices for drug and mental health court divisions; streamlines the transfer of information and inmates from counties to the states; and requires the Department of Corrections (DOC) to report to the legislature on progress over time.

In October 2012, Vera started providing technical assistance to the AOC and DOC to create a presentence risk assessment working group to develop policies and identify jurisdictions for pilot sites; assist the AOC with best practices research on creating certification and peer review processes for their drug and mental health courts; develop a cross-agency implementation plan; and identify performance measures to track the fiscal and public safety impact of the implemented policies. Vera is also collaborating with the council to secure additional funding for capacity building projects that would help facilitate implementation of JRI policies.

For more information about Vera's justice reinvestment work in Georgia, contact
Alison Shames.

 


Analysis conducted by Applied Research Services and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, State of Georgia. 

2 Data from the Georgia Department of Corrections. 

3 Analysis conducted by Applied Research Services.

map of delawareUnder Phase II of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI )—a project cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States—Vera is providing technical assistance to Kentucky to support implementation of the Public Safety and Offender Accountability Act, commonly known as H.B. 463, which was passed in 2011.

Kentucky embarked on JRI Phase I in 2010, when it established the bipartisan, inter-branch Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act to analyze Kentucky’s sentencing and corrections data and identify the factors driving Kentucky’s prison population growth, which was projected to grow by nearly 1,400 inmates during the next 10 years at a cost of $161 million. The Task Force found that sentencing and supervision practices had resulted in an increase in arrests and court cases while reported crime remained nearly flat; an increase in the number of offenders sentenced to prison as opposed to probation or other alternative sanctions; a rising incarceration rate for technical parole violators; and an increase in admissions of drug offenders. The policy recommendations made by the Task Force addressed these drivers, and they ultimately resulted in H.B. 463. Among other changes, the legislation mandates the use of a validated risk and needs assessment tool throughout the criminal justice system, requires the adoption of evidence-based practices in supervision and treatment programs, and requires the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and the Department of Corrections (DOC) to report to the legislature on progress over time. 

In July 2011, Vera started providing technical assistance to the AOC and DOC to develop a cross-agency implementation plan and identify performance measures to track the fiscal and public safety impact of the implemented policies. Collaborating with Vera, the state submitted a seed funding request to BJA and secured resources for capacity-building projects, such as training on evidence-based practices, increasing stakeholder education, creating mechanisms for program evaluation, and implementation and revision of risk assessment tools. Moving forward, Vera will monitor the state’s progress, oversee the use of the seed funding, and provide technical assistance as implementation continues.

For more information about Vera's justice reinvestment work in Kentucky contact Peggy McGarry.

project image Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections has provided technical assistance to the Louisiana Sentencing Commission since the summer of 2010, with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). That support has been under the auspices of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), a joint effort of Pew and BJA. Following Louisiana’s successful completion of Phase I JRI efforts, Vera is currently assisting Louisiana in its implementation of legislation passed in 2011 and 2012.

Louisiana was a natural candidate for JRI: from 1985 to 2010, Louisiana’s prison population grew by 267 percent, while corrections spending increased by 400 percent. In 2008, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate in the United States, with one out of 55 adults in the state in jail or prison. The annual cost to incarcerate someone in Louisiana is $21,838. The upward trend in the prison and jail population and the concomitant rise in corrections spending have come at a time of unprecedented fiscal crisis in Louisiana.

Mindful of this, in 2009 Governor Bobby Jindal directed the Louisiana Sentencing Commission to review sentencing and corrections practices, with the aim of reducing prison overcrowding and thus state spending. The commission subsequently requested technical assistance from Vera and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The commission reflects a broad range of perspectives from throughout the criminal justice system, with members including the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, legal academics, sheriffs, district attorneys, victim advocates, defense attorneys, members of the judiciary, and legislators.

In Phase I of this project, Vera and JFA Associates—a criminal justice research institute—assisted the commission in conducting an in-depth analysis of the state’s criminal justice data to determine the factors driving the Louisiana’s prison population and determining what evidence-based, approaches could be taken to safely address those. The data analysis revealed three primary drivers: non-violent, non-sex offenses accounted for over 60 percent of admissions; of the admissions to prison for revocations of probation or parole supervision, technical violations accounted for 42 percent; and the grant rate for parole had dropped by more than 56 percent from 2000 to 2009.

Based on these findings, Vera helped the commission develop a number of policy proposals to address these drivers. In 2011 and 2012, the Louisiana Legislature passed and Governor Jindal signed legislation that included: discretionary authority to waive some categories of minimum mandatory sentences; creation of a system of intermediate administrative sanctions for offenders on probation and parole who violate the conditions of their supervision; an increase in the amount “good time” and “earned time” credit that state prisoners can earn; a revision of parole eligibility, decreasing the amount of time some offenders must serve of their sentence in prison; expansion of the Orleans Parish Reentry Court program; a restructuring of the Board of Parole and Board of Probation; and creation of an online registry for providers of home incarceration and electronic monitoring.

Phase II supports the implementation of policies adopted in Phase I to assure effective planning and execution, achievement of projected outcomes, and the identification of costs savings for reinvestment. The commission established the JRI Oversight Committee to oversee implementation of Louisiana’s policies. Vera is providing technical assistance to the committee to develop an implementation plan and identify performance measures to track the impact. With assistance from Vera, the state will seek to secure funding from BJA for capacity-building projects that will enhance these efforts. For more information about this work in Louisiana, contact Sara Sullivan.

Under Phase II of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI )—a project cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States—Vera is providing technical assistance to South Carolina to support implementation of the Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act of 2010, commonly known as S. 1154, which was passed in 2010.

South Carolina embarked on JRI Phase I in 2008, when it established the bipartisan, inter-branch Sentencing Reform Commission to analyze South Carolina’s sentencing and corrections data and identify the factors driving South Carolina’s correctional population growth, which had nearly tripled during the past 25 years and was projected to grow by more than 3,200 inmates by 2014. The Commission found that sentencing and supervision practices had resulted in increased numbers of offenders on parole and probation sent back to prison for breaking the rules of their release, increased numbers of non-violent offenders in prison, and a low parole release rate. The policy recommendations made by the Commission addressed these drivers, and they ultimately resulted in S. 1154. Among other changes, the legislation improves parole release decision-making, strengthens supervision for offenders on probation and parole, provides ongoing oversight of sentencing and corrections reform, and modifies sentencing laws.

In September 2011, Vera started providing technical assistance to the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services and the Department of Corrections to develop a cross-agency implementation plan and identify performance measures to track the fiscal and public safety impact of the implemented policies.  Collaborating with Vera, South Carolina submitted a seed funding request to BJA and secured resources for capacity-building projects, such as training on evidence-based practices, increasing stakeholder education, completing database analysis, focusing on program evaluation, implementing a risk assessment tool, assisting in calculating cost-savings, and developing a graduated response matrix.  Moving forward, Vera will monitor the state’s progress, oversee the use of the seed funding, and provide technical assistance as implementation continues.

For more information about Vera's justice reinvestment work in South Carolina contact Ruth Delaney.