Over the past decade, states have become increasingly focused on containing corrections costs, generating savings or averting costs to use to improve outcomes, and ensuring that limited public safety dollars are allocated as effectively and efficiently as possible.

States currently face several challenges in managing public safety costs:

  1. States spend the majority of corrections dollars on housing and caring for people in state prisons. As such, only a minority of corrections dollars are spent on community supervision, despite sizeable probation and parole populations. Investments in improving community supervision and programs and treatment in the community can help reduce recidivism and therefore prevent a significant number of prison admissions and the associated costs.
  2. Most corrections agencies publish reports detailing the number of people incarcerated or on community supervision and corresponding costs. However, there is often little analysis of how population trends may be driving spending trends.
  3. Thirty-one states develop prison population projections on a regular basis, and not all of those states make those projections publicly available. Additionally, only eight states use projections for either parole or probation populations. Population projections are key to helping policymakers plan and appropriately allocate resources.

In recent years, states have shown that it is possible to use information about criminal justice trends and their drivers to effectively predict and manage changes in populations and costs. In order to spend public safety dollars most effectively, policymakers must take the following steps:

  • Action Item 1: Identify how much states spend on prisons and supervision.
  • Action Item 2: Analyze prison and supervision population trends to understand how they are driving costs.
  • Action Item 3: Assess how state prison and supervision populations are projected to change.

The size of states’ prison, parole, and probation populations has fluctuated in recent years. States spend far more on prison than supervision.

Select a state from the drop-down menu to see how probation, parole, and prison populations changed and to see the most recent year of corrections spending.