In FY2015, states spent $47.8 billion on corrections and allocated the majority of their corrections budgets to prisons.[15] States are realizing that a crime-fighting strategy focused so heavily on incarceration is fiscally unsustainable and that incapacitating more people is among the least cost-effective ways to reduce crime.[16] States are increasingly using data to determine how to shift resources toward strategies that deliver a bigger impact on public safety.

Since 2010, more than 30 states have conducted a comprehensive data-driven analysis using a Justice Reinvestment approach to identify what is driving changes in correctional populations and to develop policy options that could help use prison space more cost-effectively. While every state is different, some common sources of prison population growth in these states included sentencing policies and practices that result in people convicted of low-level offenses staying in prison for long periods of time, parole and probation revocations, and delays in the parole board decision-making process. By examining the data and bringing key stakeholders together to find more effective solutions, state leaders across the country have developed customized policy options that address these issues while meeting the unique needs of their state.

To develop solutions that can increase public safety, policymakers can take the following steps:

  • Action Item 1: Revise sentencing practices to prioritize prison space for people convicted of serious and violent offenses.
  • Action Item 2: Promote success on supervision and use proportionate sanctions to respond to violations.
  • Action Item 3: Improve the efficiency and consistency of the parole decision-making process and preparation for release.

CSG Justice Center structured interviews; Chris Mai and Ram Subramanian, The Price of Prisons: Examining State Spending Trends.

Steve Aos and Elizabeth Drake, Prison, Police, and Programs: Evidence-Based Options That Reduce Crime and Save Money (Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 2013).