Justice Reinvestment Approaches to Minimize Corrections Costs and Improve Community Well-Being


Across the United States, many prison populations are at all-time high levels, leading to significant overcrowding. In 2014, approximately 2.2 million people were incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons and jails – a rate of 1 out of every 111 adults. At the same time, 40 percent of people leaving prison return within three years.* This comes at a huge cost for states. Over the last 25 years, state corrections expenditures have increased exponentially – from $12 billion in 1988 to more than $55 billion estimated for 2014. In the face of skyrocketing corrections costs, states are searching for practical, evidence-based solutions to help reduce incarceration and recidivism rates and, ultimately, save money.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), in a public-private partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts, launched the Justice Reinvestment Initiative(JRI) in 2010 as a data-driven approach for states to examine corrections and related criminal justice spending, manage and allocate criminal justice populations in a more cost-effective manner, and reinvest savings in evidence-based strategies that can hold offenders accountable and improve public safety.  

BJA and BJA National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) support JRI implementation by providing training and technical assistance (TTA) through “Maximizing State Reforms” competitive challenge grants, which are open to state and tribal government applicants. Grantees already have JRI legislation in place, but receive additional TTA through BJA and BJA NTTAC to support implementation and meet jurisdictional goals. BJA NTTAC facilitated TTA in five states over the last year, and will be supporting three additional states and four local jurisdictions this coming year. Check out two examples below of justice reinvestment approaches to improve probation programming, generate savings, and increase public safety.

Creating an Automated Probation Data Repository in Ohio 

To establish JRI in Ohio, Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center experts conducted a comprehensive analysis of the state’s criminal justice system. Signed into law in 2011, Ohio’s justice reinvestment legislation aimed to improve probation supervision and establish statewide probation standards. However, a CSG Justice Center report noted considerable challenges collecting and tracking relevant probation data, which could impede implementation of the reforms. The state comprises 88 counties, but the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) provides probation services for just 44 of the counties. The remaining counties (where approximately 80 percent of the felony probation population resides) operate independent probation departments. Without a data solution to enable information-sharing among these agencies, this patchwork of independent county probation agencies threatened to undermine the promise of data-driven decisionmaking.

“With no reliable way to determine how many offenders we have on probation, let alone distribution throughout the state, it is very hard to effectively put money into programming and treatment,” said Stephanie Starr, Division of Parole and Community Services and ODRC Grant Administrator.

In order to address this challenge and further JRI implementation, the IJIS Institute, in partnership with the American Probation and Parole Association, is working through BJA NTTAC to provide technical assistance to Ohio, which has a JRI Maximizing State Reforms grant to establish an automated probation data repository. First, IJIS conducted an onsite review of probation data systems being used from a sample of reporting counties, as well as a larger, web-based survey of all Ohio counties. The TTA team found that counties were using vastly different case management systems. Additionally, most counties submit monthly or quarterly reports, and local staff spend a lot of time collecting this information by hand.

The TTA team next evaluated the various systems to identify more efficient methods of collecting and sharing data and developed a report of recommended technology solutions for the state. The report provides a roadmap to ODRC as the department takes steps toward implementing a solution that meets state and county-level goals. By creating a centralized repository, the ODRC ultimately strives to better track probation violation behavior in order to identify trends, assess the efficiency of its programs, and better allocate resources.

Implementing a Model to Rehabilitate Oregon’s Non-Violent Offenders in the Community

Through the JRI Maximizing State Reforms grant program, Oregon is working to expand the use of evidence-based strategies, including reducing prison admissions through sentencing alternatives. Enacted in 2013, Oregon’s JRI legislation is projected to avert $326 million in costs between 2015 and 2023 through programs such as increased community supervision. Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) sought to expand a previously piloted model in Marion County (OR), which aims to reduce prison admissions. By working through BJA NTTAC, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) developed an implementation plan for Lane and Klamath counties and prepared resources for other counties to replicate the process.

The Marion County sentencing model focuses on diverting non-violent property and drug offenders, using risk and needs assessments to determine the risk of recidivism and identify criminogenic needs (e.g., antisocial thinking and criminal peers) in order to create an appropriate supervision case plan. The goal is to balance supervision, services, and sanctions to rehabilitate non-violent offenders in the community.                                                                    

“As the counties implement their JRI programs, we have seen much greater collaboration between stakeholders (including courts, the district attorney’s office, and sheriff’s office and community corrections),” said Ben Wyatt, CJC Grant Coordinator. “Offenders will either go to prison or get probation. But now, [counties] look at the depth and breadth of services that can be offered in the community. There’s a much higher level of communication, from sanctioning to treatment.”

To help other counties move forward, CJC helped establish the Oregon Knowledge Bank (OKB), an online clearinghouse of best practices in criminal justice. Marion and Lane counties are also currently participating in a study on the effectiveness of the sentencing model. If the results are positive, then the performance measures and other elements necessary to replicate the program will be added to the OKB’s toolbox as an additional JRI resource for other communities to follow.

Alongside Ohio and Oregon, 25 additional states across the nation are participating in various phases of the JRI process. To learn more about JRI – including resources, success stories, and information on how to participate – check out BJA’s JRI page.

*For more information, see the CSG Justice Center “National Reentry Resource Center Facts & Trends” page.

If your agency or community is experiencing similar issues and would like to apply for technical assistance, please contact BJA NTTAC at BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov to discuss your unique criminal justice needs.

To submit the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration to be featured in a future BJA NTTAC TTA Spotlight, please email BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov.