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Vera Inst of Justice Fiscal Crisis in Corrections Report Oct 2010

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CENTER on Sentencing and Corrections

The Continuing Fiscal Crisis
in Corrections
Setting a New Course

From the Center Director
In 1983, when the National Prison Overcrowding Project
hired me to help states alleviate institutional crowding that
was beginning to draw lawsuits from civil liberties organizations, the nation’s prison population stood at 424,000.
By 2008, 25 years later, more than 1.5 million people were
in U.S. prisons. It was a precipitous rise, despite our best
efforts, and one accompanied by a 674 percent increase in
state corrections spending.
During this past quarter-century of prison expansion and
longer sentences—what some have called the biggest social experiment in the nation’s history—researchers and
practitioners were quietly going about their own inquiries
and experiments. They were discovering how corrections
can be part of creating greater community safety and fewer victims. Now policy makers are paying attention.
As this report makes clear, many state governments are
acting on those discoveries. After all, why spend taxpayer
money—urgently needed for education, health care, and
infrastructure—on long prison terms when shorter terms
are actually more effective? Why build new prison cells for
substance users when drug courts and treatment are better
for the offenders, their families, and their communities?
The overall state prison population, property crime rates,
and violent crime rates are down. The combined corrections
appropriations of 44 states Vera surveyed are also down for
the 2011 fiscal year. For those of us who have worked in the
sentencing and corrections field for many years, the numbers are astonishing.
From my current position at the Vera Institute’s Center on
Sentencing and Corrections, I see lots of evidence that policy makers are finally demanding, measuring, and, in some
cases, rewarding better safety outcomes from corrections.
This report seeks to share that evidence.
How far we have come since 1983!

Peggy McGarry
Director, Center on Sentencing and Corrections

The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course

Executive Summary
In the 1980s, the number of people sent to prison
or supervised on probation and parole in the United States began growing substantially. Not surprisingly, the overall cost of corrections increased
as well. But an unexpected about-face during the
past three years suggests that the age of expanding costs may be coming to a close. The fiscal
crisis that began in December 2007 has spurred
lawmakers to reconsider who is punished and how.
High recidivism rates among formerly incarcerated
people have also given officials cause to reevaluate existing policies.
To help legislators and other policy makers understand states’ ­responses both to the fiscal crisis and
to unsatisfactory outcomes of earlier policies and
investments, the Vera Institute of Justice surveyed
state corrections officials about their planned appropriations for fiscal year 2011. Staff from Vera’s
Center on Sentencing and Corrections assessed
current spending plans and reviewed state legislative action in 2009 and 2010 to look for new trends
in corrections policies. The first half of this report
describes the immediate actions states have taken
to reduce costs. The second half looks at legislative reforms aimed at reducing corrections spending over the long term.
A core lesson underlying all of this activity is that
officials are recognizing—in large part due to 30
years of trial and error, backed up by data—that
it is possible to reduce corrections spending while
also enhancing public safety.

4	Introduction

The Fiscal Environment: A State of Crisis




7	Overall Appropriations for Corrections

The Cost of Corrections

10	 State Responses: Seeking Operational Efficiencies

10	 Personnel Savings


10	Downsizing Programs


12	 Closing Facilities


13	 Food-Service Changes


13	Innovation: New Technology and Energy Efficiency

14	 Reconsidering Criminal Justice Policy

15	 Reducing Prison Terms for Nonviolent Offenders


17	 Expanding Release Opportunities

19	 Future Outlook for Corrections

During the past several decades, the United States has experienced an unprecedented expansion in the number of people sent to prison, the number of
people supervised on probation and parole, and the overall cost of corrections.
From 1985 to 2010, the aggregate state prison population increased by 204 percent, the number of people on state-supervised parole and probation rose by
158 percent and 122 percent, respectively, and states’ corrections spending went
up by 674 percent (see Figure 1).1
But a spate of developments in recent years prompts the question of whether, after decades of growth, the years of expansion in corrections have ended.
Given states’ responses to the worst economy in decades and their reconsideration of basic criminal justice policies, the corrections bubble may have burst.
For example, the overall state prison population declined during 2009 for
the first time in nearly 40 years.2 The combined corrections appropriations of
44 states for the 2011 fiscal year are lower—a change in course for corrections
spending, which has experienced
annual growth since 1985. At the

Figure 1: Combined State Corrections Expenditures ­­
(Capital Inclusive)

same time, crime rates, which have
an impact on public safety and corrections, have continued to drop.

$60 billion

From 2000 to 2009 the country’s
$52.95 billion*

violent crime rate fell by 39 percent.
Violent and property crime rates

$50 billion

in 2009 were at their lowest levels
since 1973.3
Drug use is still a serious concern,

$40 billion

but the focus of both policy makers
and judges has been shifting from
punitive sentencing to sanctions

$30 billion

that demonstrate a more nuanced
understanding of addiction and
a greater emphasis on treatment.

$20 billion

Since the first drug court opened
in 1989, more than 3,000 problem-

$10 billion

­solving courts have opened throughout the United States, revealing
judges’ interest in taking a different









Source: National Association of State Budget Officers, State Expenditure Reports: 1987–2008.
*Projected fiscal year 2009 Expenditures

The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course

approach to a variety of criminal
behaviors.4 State legislatures and
governors have created commissions

and task forces to develop solutions
that reduce high recidivism rates and

Anatomy of a corrections Budget

offer taxpayers more cost-­effective
sentencing options and criminal
justice systems.
There can be little question that
the fiscal crisis, which began in December 2007 and is projected to continue at least until fiscal year 2012,
has served as a catalyst for lawmakers to reconsider who is punished
and how. In what may be a new
era of sentencing and corrections
policy, many states have made cuts
to corrections appropriations, long

Overall appropriations are a combination of several revenue streams, including general state funds, federal funds, and other state funds. State
general funds are the main source of funding for state services, including corrections, and are typically a good indicator of financial health. It is
instructive to look at overall appropriations, however, because they indicate the total cost of state operations. It is particularly important to take
into account the large sums of money disbursed to the states through the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which provided $135
billion in temporary relief for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years. In effect,
the stimulus funding skews general fund figures when comparing them to
previous years.
Key Terms

seen as untouchable because of the
perceived impact on public safety.
But more than fiscal pressure may
be at work. Dissatisfaction with the
outcomes of earlier policies and investments—especially the high rates
of return to prison among those re-

>	Appropriations: funds designated for a specific use by a governing body, such as a state legislature
>	Expenditures: the amount of money spent on operations and
other projects
>	Federal Funds: also known as federal aid, these funds are pro-

leased—has also driven state policy

vided by the federal government, typically in the form of grants

makers’ willingness to effect change.

and loans, and directly support public services. In recent years,

Increasingly, officials have turned to

this aid has included ARRA funds.

the results of research, analysis, and
evaluation for guidance about making more effective use of the funds
they do have. Congressional passage
of the Second Chance Act, which
incorporates many of those findings,
responds to state pleas for assistance

>	General Funds: a state’s primary revenues gained from taxes,
including personal and corporate income, sales, and capital gains
>	Other State Funds: funds restricted for a specific purpose and
established under laws, ordinances, and/or legislation

with prisoners returning home. A
federal court ordered California to
reduce its prison crowding—much of it the result of the state’s high rate of
parole revocations. These are but two examples prompting state policy makers
to enact and implement changes that go well beyond cost-saving measures. So
many states have adopted new strategies during the past decade that reforms
in sentencing and corrections seem almost commonplace.5 State policy makers
appear less inclined to be reflexively “tough on crime.” Indeed, it is becoming
more typical—if not expected—that policies are driven by the growing body of
evidence about effective responses: a “smart on crime” approach.

Research-based responses that keep offenders in the community—whether
through drug and other problem-solving courts or intermediate, targeted
sanctions for parole violators—have been shown to maintain or enhance public safety at less expense.6 People support these ideas: recent research shows
that voters believe the size and cost of prison systems can be reduced while
keeping communities safe.7
To help legislators and other policy makers, the Vera Institute of Justice set
out to better understand both the range of state responses to the economic environment and how states are reexamining some basic criminal justice policy
approaches. Accordingly, Vera conducted a survey of state corrections departments, requesting a breakdown of their appropriations for the 2011 fiscal year
and the cost-saving measures they planned to implement. Vera also conducted
a scan of legislative action from 2009 and 2010. The survey results from 44
states and the legislative scan of all 50 states show that many jurisdictions are
both cutting costs and taking a new look at their criminal justice systems.
States are:
>	cutting costs through operational efficiencies such as reducing personnel costs and downsizing programs;
>	collaborating with one another to make purchases on a larger scale;
>	using new technologies to reduce energy costs;
>	closing entire facilities or housing units;
>	decreasing the number of people who enter the system and reducing
the time they remain behind bars; and
>	striving to reduce the number of people who return to prison by using
evidence-based policies and programs to lower recidivism and improve outcomes.
The first half of this report describes the economic environment and the immediate actions that states have taken to reduce corrections costs. The second
half looks closely at recent legislative reforms in sentencing and corrections
that can result in savings over the long term. States are finding that they can
reduce their budgets while improving their corrections system by expanding mandatory supervision and treatment programs, creating laws that give
courts more flexibility in sentencing placement, and developing policies that
give offenders incentives to complete programming.

The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course

The Fiscal Environment: A State of Crisis
After nearly three years of recession, states are facing the toughest economic
landscape since the Great Depression. An increased demand for public services and a decline in state revenues mean that budgets must be stretched
dramatically. Fiscal year 2010 was particularly challenging for state finances,
with aggregate budget gaps totaling a record $192 billion or 29 percent of total
state budgets.8
Unfortunately, the outlook for fiscal year 2011 has not improved significantly.
In the 2011 budget cycle, states face shortfalls totaling $121 billion or 19 percent of total state budgets.9 States typically address their budget gaps in three
ways: by increasing taxes, tapping “rainy day” funds, or making budget cuts.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), passed by Congress in
February 2009, gave states a fourth option by providing them $135 billion in
emergency stimulus funds. The Act allocated two-thirds of that amount to
nondiscretionary areas (such as Medicaid) and approximately one-third to
a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, intended to help states minimize cutbacks
and layoffs. Although ARRA earmarked 81.8 percent of each state’s allocation
for education, the remaining 18.2 percent was reserved for other government
services, notably public safety.10

The Cost of Corrections
State corrections systems expend a significant portion of public resources and
constitute the fourth-largest category of states’ collective spending, following
education, Medicaid, and transportation. As noted, states’ corrections spending has increased by 674 percent since 1985, the second-fastest-growing state
expenditure after Medicaid.11 In fiscal year 2008, states spent $52 billion on
corrections, accounting for 3.5 percent of total state spending (see Figure 2). A

Figure 2: Fiscal Year
2008 Combined State
Expenditures by Category
Corrections 3.5%

assistance 1.7%

considerable number and array of discretionary programs compete for state
general funds, 7 percent of which went to corrections that year. States projected that the percentage in fiscal year 2009 would climb to 7.2 percent.12 (The
most recent figures available on actual spending of this type are from fiscal
year 2009.) The vast majority of funds that go to state corrections systems—9


All other

out of 10 dollars—are allocated to prisons.13 (For a description of related funding terms, see “Anatomy of a Corrections Budget,” page 5.)


Overall Appropriations for Corrections
In fiscal year 2011, total corrections appropriations for the 44 states that
responded to the Vera survey, including federal aid and state general funds,
declined by 1.05 percent—a reduction of more than $360 million from the
previous fiscal year (see Figure 3). Despite this overall decrease, a significant
number of these states—19—increased their corrections budgets (see Table 1).

Note: Percentages do not total 100 due to
Source: National Association of State Budget
Officers, State Expenditure Reports: December

Figure 3: Percentage Change in State
Corrections Appropriations, Fiscal Year
2010 to Fiscal Year 2011

only marginal increases; seven states’ corrections budgets
grew by less than 1 percent. Some of these states appear
to be holding steady after having made steep reductions
the previous year. In Arizona, for example, the budget for


New York
South Carolina
North Carolina
-0.79% Ohio
-0.72% Missouri
-0.09% Minnesota
-0.02% Texas
North Dakota*
Maine +0.06%
Alaska +0.19%
Georgia +0.52%
New Mexico +0.57%
South Dakota +0.72%
Arizona +0.84%
Nevada +0.91%
Rhode Island
West Virginia

But nearly half of the states that reported increases saw

its Department of Corrections increased by 0.8 percent for
fiscal year 2011, but that followed a decrease of 8.6 percent
in appropriations for fiscal year 2010. Indeed, Arizona’s
2011 corrections budget is more than $83 million less than
its initial fiscal year 2009 appropriations.14
Although overall corrections appropriations in fiscal
year 2011 decreased or remained steady for most states,
the 44 states that participated in this survey received a
0.76 percent increase in their general fund allocations
for corrections, amounting to an increase of nearly $232
million. This increase is explained in part because some
states used stimulus funds in the past for certain recurring costs. Altogether, 33 of the 44 states that participated
in this survey spent more than $1.35 billion of federal
stimulus money on corrections in fiscal year 2010. In
fiscal year 2011, however, only 22 states surveyed plan
to use ARRA funds in their corrections budgets, and the
total amount they expect to spend on corrections has
decreased to approximately $733 million (see Table 1), a
reduction of approximately $614 million. In both fiscal
years, many states funded corrections by using ARRA
funds instead of general funds, preventing further cuts
to programs, staffing, and general operations. Some

states relied heavily on these funds. Almost 30 percent of
Alabama’s corrections budget was supplanted by ARRA

Source: Vera Institute of Justice, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, Fiscal
Year 2011 Corrections ­Appropriations Survey.

funds in fiscal year 2010, for example. However, using

*Arkansas and North Dakota operate on a biennial budget cycle and did not
experience cuts or increases to their planned allocations.

operating costs) means that a state will face stark choices

**According to budget officers at the Wyoming Department of Corrections,
the significant increase that Wyoming reported for fiscal year 2011 is attributed
to the opening of a new facility in January 2010. The additional funds allocated
for fiscal year 2011 are for the associated operational costs of that facility.

temporary funds for recurring costs (such as staffing and
in the years ahead; it will need to increase its use of general funds in later years, find funding for future budget
cycles through other sources, or make cuts later if funding
is unavailable.
Because the stimulus is scheduled to be depleted by the
end of fiscal year 2011, states have increased their use of
general funds to replace the temporary assistance that
ARRA funds provided.15 Instead of using stimulus funds to
cover recurring costs, some states have allocated onetime

The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course

Table 1: Corrections Appropriations (in Millions) for Fiscal Year 2010 and Fiscal Year 2011

Fiscal Year 2010

Fiscal Year 2011

Total Initial

Total ARRA Funds
Allocated to

Total Initial

Total ARRA Funds
Allocated to

% Change in Total
Initial Corrections
Appropriations from
FY2010 to FY2011






- 2.60








New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota*
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota






West Virginia






Note: Figures do not include funds for capital projects (such as facility construction). Corrections budgets are given for informational purposes only. Some budgets
include appropriations for probation, parole, and/or juvenile corrections, though others include only appropriations for adult corrections. Numbers in the Totals
row are based on actual figures, though numbers listed for state appropriations have been rounded.
Source: Vera Institute of Justice, Center on Sentencing and Corrections Fiscal Year 2011 Corrections Appropriations Survey.
*Arkansas and North Dakota operate on a biennial budget cycle and did not experience cuts or increases to their planned allocations.
**According to budget officers at the Wyoming Department of Corrections, the significant increase that Wyoming reported for fiscal year 2011 is attributed to the
opening of a new facility in January 2010. The additional funds allocated for fiscal year 2011 are for the associated operational costs of that facility.

or start-up funding for projects and programs that are expected to contribute
to cost savings in the future. The Connecticut Department of Correction, for
example, used stimulus funds to collaborate with the Board of Pardons and
Paroles and the Judicial Branch to institute and expand the use of videoconferencing for court and parole hearings and probation interviews. This will
contribute to future savings by reducing the cost of transportation while expediting the case review process and increasing security.

State Responses: Seeking Operational Efficiencies
With most states still facing a serious budget crisis in fiscal year 2011, corrections departments again crafted budgets with a goal of saving costs, using
many of the same operational tactics they used in fiscal year 2010.16 These
ongoing strategies include reducing personnel costs, downsizing or eliminating programs, and closing facilities. States are also turning toward other
administrative efficiencies as a means of cutting costs, including changes in
food services, implementing new technology, and exploring strategies to save
on energy costs (see Table 2).

Personnel Savings
Of the 44 states that responded to Vera’s survey, 36 reported some type of
personnel cuts, such as reducing staff salaries, benefits, or overtime; reducing
the number of full-time equivalent positions; and/or instituting hiring freezes.
Six states cited reducing or managing overtime as a cost-saving measure.
Although some simply instituted a policy of reduced overtime, other states,
such as Illinois, are trying to reduce overtime by hiring additional correctional
officers but at lower salaries. At least 32 states have reduced the number of
full-time equivalent positions and/or instituted hiring freezes. In making staff
reductions, several agencies, including the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the New Mexico Corrections Department, are excluding correctional
and parole officers from any hiring freezes so that they do not risk compromising safety. Similarly, Arizona excluded correctional officers from performance
pay elimination and a required unpaid furlough day.

Downsizing Programs
Similar to the fiscal year 2010 findings, 22 states surveyed have eliminated or
reduced programs for fiscal year 2011.17 Although many states, like Arizona,
Wisconsin, and New Mexico, are trying to maintain their programs by lowering costs and renegotiating contracts, other states have suspended or eliminated programs entirely. In Colorado, a 100-bed military-style boot camp for


The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course

Table 2: Cost-Saving Measures Adopted Through Fiscal Year 2011

New Mexico
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Health, or


Pay Increases,
Using Furloughs,
Benefits, or
Overtime Pay

Reductions or
Hiring Freezes






















Programs or


of Beds

Expansion or
of New



























Source: Vera Institute of Justice, Center on Sentencing and Corrections Fiscal Year 2011 Corrections Appropriations Survey.
Note: Vera’s survey asked about cost-saving measures adopted in fiscal year 2011. Most responses specified such measures, though some states’ responses
described measures adopted before fiscal year 2011. If states marked any of the categories in this table as measures adopted or continued in fiscal year 2011, their
responses are shown above.
*North Dakota provided only fiscal information and did not indicate the use of cost-saving measures. Several states were able to report their appropriations figures
shortly before this publication went to press and were not asked to report any specific cost-savings measures, including Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North
Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.


young nonviolent offenders in Buena

Expanding Programs Intended to Cut

Vista was closed—eliminating 33
full-time positions and leading to a
projected $900,000 savings.18

Providing evidence-based educational, job-training, and treatment programs for individuals who are incarcerated or under community supervision is critical to reducing recidivism and improving public safety. Many
states know that cutting effective programs does not serve their purposes
in the long term because such programs help people succeed on supervision. Nine states reported expanding programs and projects. In Montana,
a women’s community corrections facility added a kitchen to provide culinary arts training, while the Montana Women’s Prison partnered with a
local university to provide additional job-skills training classes. Similarly,
the Tennessee Prison for Women is adding a college program that will
provide scholarships for as many as 30 prisoners annually to earn an associate’s degree while incarcerated.

Closing Facilities
Fifteen states of the 44 surveyed
reported plans to close facilities
or reduce their number of beds in
fiscal year 2011, many as a result of
a decreasing prison population. Six
of these states have already closed
facilities or parts of them. Delaware
closed part of one facility by moving
prisoners to a more staff-­efficient
housing unit; this has cut costs by

Several states reported expanding substance use treatment, mental health
services, and other alternatives to incarceration. Kentucky has increased
treatment capacity in more cost-effective, community-based facilities,
and Tennessee has added 200 beds for substance use treatment. The
Colorado State Penitentiary is expanding its mental health services, and
Arizona will increase its transition program, allowing twice the number of
nonviolent felons (about 1,000 additional people) to be released up to
three months earlier and providing more structure upon release.

eliminating 10 full-time positions.
Rhode Island—which made several
policy changes in 2008 designed
to keep its inmate population from
growing—has been able to shut
some housing units, thereby decreasing staff overtime. Entire facilities
have been shuttered in Georgia,
Louisiana, and Connecticut. In Georgia, the 700-bed Bostick State Prison
was closed; the state expects to save

$6.7 million annually. In Louisiana, the Steve Hoyle Rehabilitation Center was
closed, reception centers were consolidated, and the number of beds reduced
at the Forcht-Wade Correctional Center.
The New York Department of Correctional Services plans to close three facilities and part of a fourth by April 2011. These closures are possible because of
significant reductions in the state’s inmate population: it declined by 8 percent
from the beginning of 2007 to the end of 2009 and is projected to decline by
another 1,000 individuals during the 2011 fiscal year. The state expects operational cost savings from these closures to total $3 million for the 2011 fiscal
year and approximately $46 million for fiscal year 2012.19
For fiscal year 2011 some states are cutting back on their use of private
prisons. Privately contracted facilities may or may not result in cost savings
and as such are the subject of debate. It also appears that as prison populations decline in several states, the factors that may make private facilities
appealing as a solution to overcrowding are less relevant. (The private-prison


The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course

industry maintains that its facilities give states the flexibility of short-term
contracts and can make beds available faster.20) Kentucky reduced the number of ­privately contracted facilities from three to two. The number of beds
increased at one of those prisons, resulting in a net loss of fewer than 50 beds.

Reentry Initiatives
to Help Reduce

Arizona is eliminating more than 5,800 out-of-state beds administered by private ­contractors and adding 2,000 new private in-state beds and 4,000 state­­operated beds.
Despite the more prominent trend of decreasing prison capacity, some
states have opened new facilities and increased the number of prison beds.
Colorado and Tennessee have added new facilities, replacing outdated and
inefficient ones and in some cases increasing capacity. In Maryland, several
new housing units have opened during the past few years without increasing capacity but allowing the state to close outdated facilities. A new facility
opened in Colorado on September 1, 2010, providing additional administrativemaximum security beds.21

Food-Service Changes
Thirteen of the surveyed states reported reducing food services as a cost­saving measure in fiscal year 2011. Arizona reported savings in food-service
delivery by cutting staffing costs, while New Mexico reduced the number of
calories served from 3,400 to 3,000.22 Ohio started serving brunch in lieu of
breakfast and lunch on weekends and holidays. State officials said that this
practice does not reduce the type or amount of food, but cuts costs through
payroll savings. However, a report from Ohio suggests that dissatisfaction
with the new meal policy could be contributing to the increase in cell rob­
beries at one facility since the change.23
Wisconsin and Minnesota have collaborated to reduce the cost of food services in both states. Wisconsin has followed Minnesota’s menu standardization policy, and the two states use the same vendor, allowing them to leverage
their purchasing power.24 One example of this project is that Wisconsin now
offers “Taco Tuesdays,” which resulted in a cost decrease of 10 cents per meal,
with an annual expected savings of $2 million.25 Another is that the Minnesota
Department of Corrections now buys milk from a Wisconsin prison dairy at an
estimated savings of $125,000 annually.26

Innovation: New Technology and Energy
Louisiana has invested in several types of technology expected to save an
estimated $6.2 million annually.27 In four state prisons, security officers in tow-

Many states are focusing on
reentry initiatives in fiscal year
2011, with the goal of reducing the rate of re-incarceration
among people who leave prison. Eleven states surveyed plan
to adopt or expand reentry
programs and will use existing
funds or additional grants to
support them. Delaware Governor Jack A. Markell has instituted a statewide initiative to
reduce recidivism by creating a
partnership among state agencies and community organizations to create individual reentry
plans. This program combines
input from the departments of
corrections, health and social
services, education, labor, and
housing into an Individual Assessment Discharge and Planning Team (I-ADAPT) to coordinate reentry plans based on
each person’s circumstances.31
In Texas and Kentucky, reentry
coordinators have been hired
to help prisoners plan their
transition by gathering critical identification documents,
identifying residential and employment services, and addressing other needs that may help
them successfully return to the

ers are being replaced with video surveillance systems and other measures.28
Like Arkansas and Mississippi, Louisiana is also installing “shaker” fences with
pressure-activated alarms as an additional safety measure.29


To reduce the nearly $10 million spent annually on transporting individuals
to and from court, Louisiana is introducing the use of video conferencing in
parishes with the most frequent requests for appearances: to date, this system
has been implemented in Orleans, East Baton Rouge, and Lafayette Parishes.30
Louisiana, West Virginia, and Maine have developed energy and fuel conservation initiatives. Louisiana is investing in energy-efficient equipment.
West Virginia is installing natural gas lines in one of its largest rural facilities
and has removed inefficient energy devices from several others. The Maine
Department of Corrections is using wood-pellet boilers, wind power, and solar
technology. Although the impact of these energy initiatives is difficult to
track over a short period, these states expect significant cost savings in the
coming years.

Reconsidering Criminal Justice Policy
As the economic crisis continues, many states are using the occasion of new
fiscal imperatives to take a fresh look at the way they punish criminals. Such
moves are prompted not only by overwhelming budget deficits, but by persuasive research about addiction and rehabilitative programs—and for some
states, a declining prison population.32 Most commonly, states have revised
their criminal codes to downgrade certain offenses or reclassify specific
crimes, such as raising the threshold dollar amounts for property crimes or
reducing penalties associated with certain types of drug possession.33 For
instance, Colorado passed legislation (HB1352, 2010) that reduced some crime
categories for drug possession and use to misdemeanors or lesser felonies.
This change will cut sentences by half or more, leading to a projected annual
savings of $1.5 million, most of which will be reappropriated for offender substance use treatment.34
Moreover, states are increasingly using legislative approaches to reduce
their prison populations, improve outcomes, and balance their budgets. These
measures are intended to prevent or reduce prison sentences at the sentencing
stage or expand release opportunities for those who are already incarcerated.
Most of these recently enacted provisions apply only to nonviolent offenders
and not to violent or sex offenders. (Unless otherwise stated, when this report
refers to a provision that applies only to nonviolent offenders, it does not apply to sex offenders.) Many of the initiatives described below are supported
by research and evidence suggesting that mandatory supervision and other
prison alternatives are more effective and cost efficient for many lower-risk,
nonviolent offenders.35 The laws enacted in recent years often provide more
discretion to sentencing judges to use alternatives to prison for appropriate


The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course

­offenders and encourage a more focused use of lengthy, expensive prison
terms for serious, chronic, and violent offenders.
This section presents a summary of notable trends in state sentencing policy
during the 2009 and 2010 state legislative sessions.

Reducing Prison Terms for Nonviolent Offenders
Many recent legislative reforms aim to divert nonviolent offenders from prison and provide greater opportunities for treatment and services. The changes
also target certain populations, such as technical parole or probation violators,
and limit the term for which they may be sent back to prison.
Technical violators: A significant portion of national prison admissions
every year are not for the commission of new crimes, but for technical violations of parole or probation. (A technical violation is a violation of the rules
governing an offender’s supervision that can lead to revocation of parole or
probation and to re-incarceration.) These numbers vary from state to state, but
recent estimates suggest that at least one-third of all new prison admissions
are for violations of community supervision; perhaps more than one-third of
those are purely for technical violations, such as failure to report to a parole or
probation appointment or failing a drug test.36 In some states, such as California, these percentages are even higher. In 2008, nearly 55 percent of the state’s
prison admissions were the result of parole revocations, 43 percent of which
were for technical parole violations.37
In an effort to conserve resources and reduce their prison population, many
states have curtailed the use of prison as a response to probationers or parolees who violate the conditions of their supervision. Specifically, states are
limiting the use of prison sanctions. Alabama now limits the sentence for
eligible nonviolent technical violators of probation to 90 days incarceration
(SB 325, 2010). The law is retroactive and permits eligible nonviolent offenders
serving a revocation sentence for a technical violation to petition the court for
For technical violations of parole, Kentucky gave its parole officers the discretion to confine a person in county jail for up to 10 days and no more than
30 days total within a 365-day period. This intermediate sanction applies only
to those who sign a statement admitting to the violation (HB 1, 2010 [Special
Session]). Colorado legislators voted to allow community punishment rather
than incarceration for technical violators of parole who are low-level, non­
violent offenders with no pending felony warrants or charges (HB 1360, 2010).
For probation violators in Iowa, the courts now have the option of revoking
probation and sending people to prison or extending the period of probation
for up to one year, including one year beyond the statutory maximum period
of probation (HB 2377, 2010).


Alternatives to Incarceration: Some state legislatures have explicitly stated their preference for alternatives to prison and non-prison sentences
for certain nonviolent offenders. For example, Vermont made clear that a sentence of probation is to be standard for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies
(SB 292, 2009). Although judges may deviate from this standard, the legislature stated that the decision to do so should be used judiciously and sparingly.
In a similar move, Florida eliminated prison sentences for certain third-degree
felonies that do not involve the use or threat of violence, as long as the court
finds that a non-prison sanction would not pose a danger to the public (SB

Many states have
recognized that
providing treatment
and services in
the community
is a better use of
resources than
incarceration for
certain offenders.

1722, 2009).
Many states have expanded or created alternative sentencing programs.
The alternatives vary in structure, ranging from home confinement to formal
diversion programs for specialized populations, such as drug offenders and
offenders who are parents.
Four states have expanded the availability of home incarceration. The Louisiana legislature authorized courts to sentence offenders to a period of home
confinement instead of, or in addition to, time in prison, provided a court
hearing finds that home confinement will best serve the interests of justice.
The state also increased the length of time a felony offender can be sentenced
to house arrest from two to four years (HB 225, 2009). Vermont also gave its
courts authority to sentence certain offenders to home confinement for up to
180 days instead of prison (SB 292, 2009).
Many states have recognized that providing treatment and services in the
community is a better use of resources than incarceration for certain offenders. Florida appropriated funds for a statewide alternative sentencing program
to divert nonviolent offenders to a variety of recidivism-reduction services,
including employment assistance and counseling (HB 5001, 2010). The program will be instituted only in communities where the courts and the Florida
Department of Corrections agree to collaborate with community stakeholders
to implement evidence-based practices in programming and develop a system
of graduated incentives. Vermont codified a system of community reparative
boards to determine alternative sentences for offenders who plead guilty to a
nonviolent felony or misdemeanor. The legislation also expanded eligibility
for the adult court diversion program to include second-time misdemeanants
and not just first-time offenders (HB 792, 2009).
Some states have created sentencing alternatives that target specific populations. South Carolina authorized a diversion sentence for certain drug offenses
(SB 1154, 2010). Washington developed the Family and Offender Sentencing Alternative for some nonviolent offenders who have not committed sex offenses
and who have custody of children under the age of 18; the program incorporates parenting classes, substance use and mental health treatment, and life
skills classes (SB 6639, 2009).


The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course

Relaxing Mandatory Sentences: Recent repeals and amendments
of mandatory sentencing laws represent a significant shift in the sentencing
framework. Such reforms are often driven by concerns about equity and fairness, but they are also expected to result in cost savings. On the federal level,
the congressional repeal in June 2010 of a five-year mandatory minimum for
first-time simple possession of crack cocaine—a change made with bipartisan
support—is expected to save the federal prison system approximately $42 million over the next five years.38
Many states have also moved toward relaxing mandatory sentences. In
2009, New York passed landmark legislation to undo its Rockefeller Drug
Laws, eliminating mandatory minimums and reinstating judicial discretion
in low-level drug cases (SB 56-B, 2009). This series of reforms reduced certain
minimum penalties and eliminated prison sentences for specific low-level
categories of offenses, resulting in retroactive resentencing for approximately
1,500 inmates. New Jersey amended a law that had required judges to sentence drug offenders to a mandatory minimum for distributing or possessing
with intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school
(SB 1866, 2009). With the change, the courts now have the discretion to apply the mandatory minimum or place the offender on probation, provided
that the offender did not commit the crime while on school premises, use or
threaten violence, or possess a firearm. For low-level drug cases, Minnesota afforded judges the discretion to deviate from mandatory-minimum sentences
upon motion by the prosecutor, and Rhode Island removed certain mandatory
minimums (SB 802, 2009; SB 39, 2009, respectively). Delaware amended its
mandatory sentencing policies by allowing the court to alter sentences of one
year or less for individuals who have such a serious medical need that they
need continuous treatment and do not pose a substantial risk to the community (HB 338, 2009).

Expanding Release Opportunities
Twenty of the states examined have reconsidered how and when people are
released from prison, with more than half of these states instituting or expanding “good time” credit policies and the others expanding parole eligibility
Use of Credits: One of the most effective ways to shrink prison populations is to broaden the use of credit systems that allow eligible inmates to
reduce their total sentence. Individuals earn such credit by demonstrating
good behavior, participating in certain educational opportunities, or completing specified treatment programs.
Three states have revamped their use of educational credits, and seven have
made changes to their good-time compliance credits. Oregon and Mississippi
expanded eligibility for education-based credit to offenders who were not


convicted of specified high-level

Investment in Problem-Solving Courts

offenses (respectively, SB 1007, 2010;
HB 1136, 2010). Louisiana passed

Despite unprecedented budget crises, many states are using their limited
resources to create problem-solving courts. This demonstrates that states
are willing to invest in innovative programs expected to save them money
in the long run. Indiana (HB 1271, 2010) approved a statewide framework
of problem-solving court models, aiming to establish and certify drug
court, mental health court, family dependency drug court, community
court, reentry court, domestic violence court, and veterans court.39 Pennsylvania passed similar legislation, which created a framework for drug
courts, mental health courts, and “driving under the influence courts” (SB
383, 2009).
Research suggests that drug courts can reduce criminal recidivism: recent
studies show that drug courts reduce crime rates by an average of 8 to 26
percent, with the best drug courts reducing crime by as much as 35 to 40
percent.40 Drug courts are also cost effective: a recent study concluded
that drug courts produce an average of $2.21 in direct benefits for every
dollar invested.41 To that end, Alabama has authorized judges to establish
drug courts for nonviolent offenders who are not charged with sex offenses or distribution, manufacturing, or trafficking of controlled substances.
The court may now withhold charges or order probation, a suspended
sentence, or a reduced period of incarceration upon successful completion of the drug court program (HB 348, 2010).
Veterans courts are quickly emerging as a hybrid model of drug and mental health courts, an approach that has particular import given that nearly
one in five veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan report symptoms of either posttraumatic stress disorder or major depression, and one
in four ages 18 to 25 meet the criteria for substance abuse.42 Illinois legislators created a judicial intervention process for veterans, passing the Veterans and Service members Court Treatment Act (HB 5214, 2009). Using
federal funding, Colorado also authorized a treatment court for veterans
and active military personnel (HB 1104, 2010).

a measure making its good-time
credits retroactive to 1992, excluding violent and sex offenders (SB 312,
2010), and Colorado increased the
number of good-time days a non­
violent, program­-compliant inmate
may earn per month from 10 to 12
days (HB 1351, 2009).
Restructuring Conditions
of Release: Some states have
restructured their corrections procedures so that specified categories of
offenders are eligible for conditional
early release, either through early
discharge, home confinement discharge, or release to community supervision or a work-release program.
Indiana amended a statute to
require the Department of Correction to identify inmates who have
served 21 years and earned four
years of credit time to refer them to
the parole board for rehabilitative
release (SB 415, 2010). Kansas created
an early-release policy for terminally
ill inmates who meet certain criteria,
such as functional incapacitation
and posing no significant threat to
the community (HB 2412, 2009). Kentucky now allows nonviolent offenders convicted of low-level felonies

(excluding sex offenses) with 180 days left of their prison term to be released
to home incarceration and requires them to participate in discharge planning
to address issues such as education, employment, and housing (HB 564, 2010).
As part of the South Carolina Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing
Reform Act, the state now requires that nonviolent offenders who have been
incarcerated for at least two years be released to mandatory supervision 180
days before their prison release date (SB 1154, 2010). The new law also makes


The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course

certain offenders (including nonviolent and some violent offenders, but not
sex offenders) eligible for parole or work release within three years of their release date, including certain drug offenders who were not previously eligible.
In New Hampshire, offenders who have not been previously paroled are now
automatically released nine months prior to their maximum sentence (SB 500,
Other states have sought to reduce their prison populations by expanding
eligibility for parole. Louisiana lowered the requirements for parole, now requiring a majority vote by parole board members rather than unanimity (HB
195, 2010). West Virginia instituted an accelerated parole program that makes
certain inmates eligible for early release through parole if they have completed an individualized rehabilitative treatment program (SB 218, 2010). The bill
also extended annual parole review to those who are eligible and serving life
sentences. Vermont has opted to vastly expand its furlough program, instructing the Department of Corrections to release all nonviolent inmates and put
them on furlough if they have served their minimum sentence and have satisfied rehabilitative programming obligations (SB 292, 2009). Inmates are now
also eligible for this type of release 180 days—double the previous amount—
before the end of a minimum sentence, as long as those serving less than one
year have served at least half their minimum sentence (HB 792, 2009).

Future Outlook for Corrections
The fiscal crisis is far from over: 39 states have already projected gaps that
total $102 billion for fiscal year 2012.43 In all areas, including corrections, taxpayers will continue to demand the highest possible return on their investment whenever public money is spent. For corrections agencies, this means
operating facilities in the most efficient ways possible and reducing costs by
identifying offenders who can be safely supervised in the community at less
cost than in a prison cell. The fiscal crisis will continue to prompt states and
the federal government to reexamine their policies and practices. Through efforts to reduce spending, policy makers are learning about less punitive, more
effective ways to treat individuals who commit crimes, especially nonviolent
crimes. By looking for evidence of what works and striving to be “smart on
crime,” policy makers may be defining a new framework for sentencing and
corrections that can make substantial differences during economic hardship
and prevail even in prosperous times.






U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Prisoner Statistics Series,
cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2296 (accessed September 30, 2010). U.S.
Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Adults on Probation, Federal and State-by-State, 1977-2008, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.
gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2026 (accessed September 30,
2010). U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Adults
on Parole, Federal and State-by-State, 1975-2008, http://bjs.ojp. (accessed September,
30, 2010).
Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States,
Prison Count 2010: State Population Declines for the First Time in 38
Count_2010.pdf?n=880 (accessed August 3, 2010).
U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National
Crime Victimization Survey: Criminal Victimization, 2009, http://bjs. (accessed October 13,
C. West Huddleston, III, Douglas B. Marlowe, and Rachel Casebolt,
Painting the Current Picture: A National Report Card on Drug Courts
and Other Problem-Solving Court Programs in the United States.
National Drug Court Institute, May 2008,
default/files/PDF/PTCPMay2008.pdf (accessed October 4, 2010).


Adrienne Austin, Criminal Justice Trends: Key Legislative Changes
in Sentencing Policy, 2001-2010. New York: Vera Institute of Justice,
September 2010.


Steve Aos, Marna Miller, and Elizabeth Drake, Evidence-Based Adult
Corrections Programs: What Works and What Does Not. Olympia:
Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 2006.


Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States,
“Public Attitudes on Crime and Punishment,” (accessed September 30, 2010).


Elizabeth McNichol, Phil Oliff, and Nicholas Johnson, States
Continue to Feel Recession’s Impact. Washington, DC: Center on
Budget and Policy Priorities,
(accessed August 10, 2010).



15	 National Governors Association and National Association of State
Budget Officers, “Fiscal Survey of States: June 2010,” http://www.
­(accessed July 28, 2010).
16	 Christine S. Scott-Hayward, The Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Rethinking Policies and Practices. New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2009.
17	 Analysis is based on survey responses and a scan of enacted legislation and includes states that did not participate in the survey.
18	 National Conference of State Legislatures, “Actions and Proposals
to Balance FY 2011 Budgets: Criminal Justice Cuts,” http://www.ncsl.
org/?tabid=19645 (accessed August 4, 2010).
19	 New York State Department of Correctional Services, “DOCS
Fact Sheet: 2011 Prison Closures,”­
FactSheets/PrisonClosure2011.html (accessed August 18, 2010).
20	 Richard P. Seiter, Private Corrections: A Review of the Issues, a
conference of the Academy of Criminal Justice Science, Cincinnati,
Ohio, March 11-15, 2008.
21	 Administrative-maximum security beds refer to housing units or
entire facilities that provide the most secure levels of custody and
where inmates are typically held in solitary confinement. Ashley
Green, “New State Prison to Open in September,” KRDO News
Radio, July 13, 2010,
html (accessed September 30, 2010). Although Colorado increased
its capacity to hold inmates in administrative segregation, other
states such as Ohio and Mississippi have reformed their classification
system and the criteria used to place prisoners in segregation, resulting in a dramatic reduction in that population. In Mississippi, the corrections department found that placing fewer inmates in segregation
did not affect the security of the facility, the corrections staff, or the
general inmate population. As a result, Mississippi plans to close its
administrative segregation unit at the Mississippi State Penitentiary
at the beginning of calendar year 2011. This is in part due to the
reduced need for administrative segregation beds, but it is also a
cost-saving measure: The physical plant design of the segregation
unit requires more staff, resulting in increased operational costs.

10	 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, H.R. 1, 111th
Cong., 1st sess. (January 6, 2009), 165, 166.

22	 Arizona Department of Corrections, “Inmate Information Connection,”
Connect.aspx (accessed August 12, 2010).

11	 National Association of State Budget Officers, “State
Expendi­ture Reports,”
Default.aspx (accessed July 28, 2010).

23	 Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, Inspection and Evaluation of Trumbull Correctional Institution. Ohio: June 16, 2010, p.14, (accessed
August 8, 2010).

12	 National Governors Association and National Association of State
Budget Officers, “The Fiscal Survey of States: June 2010,” http://
(accessed July 28, 2010).

24	 Wisconsin Minnesota Collaboration Report, March 31, 2009, p. 44, (accessed
August 4, 2010).

13	 Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States,
“One in 31,”
aspx?id=49382 (accessed August 3, 2010).


14	 Arizona State Department of Corrections, “ADC 2009 Appropriations
Report,” (accessed August
4, 2010).

The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course

25	 National Conference of State Legislatures, “Actions and Proposals
to Balance FY 2011 Budgets: Criminal Justice Cuts,” http://www.ncsl.
org/?tabid=19645 (accessed September 30, 2010).

26	 Shari Burt, Minnesota Department of Corrections, e-mail exchange with
Michael Woodruff, October 14, 2010.
27	 Michelle Millhollon, “TV Guarding: State Expects to Save $6.2 Million By
Phasing Out Towers at Prison,” The Advocate, August 23, 2009, http://­local/12719916-1.html (accessed July 21, 2010).
28	 Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, “Internal Analysis
of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections,” Corrections
Services (DPS&C-CS) for the Commission on Streamlining Government,
August 14, 2009, p. 28.
29	 Ibid.

37	 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Offender Information Services Branch, Estimates and Statistical Analysis Section, Data
Analysis Unit, California Prisoners and Parolees 2008, http://www.cdcr.
CalPris/CALPRISd2008.pdf (accessed September 30, 2010).
38	 Congressional Budget Office, “Cost Estimate, S. 1789 Fair Sentencing
Act of 2010,”
­(accessed September 30, 2010).
39	 A family dependency drug court is a model that was created by Indiana. It is a court focused on “families that include a child who has been
adjudicated a child in need of services and a parent, guardian, or other
household member who has substance abuse problems.” (Indiana HB
1271, 2010).

30	 Ibid.
31	 Office of Governor Jack Markell, “Reducing Recidivism and Creating the
Individual Assessment, Discharge and Planning Team, Executive Order
Number Seven,” Delaware, May 15, 2009,
orders/exec_order_07.shtml (accessed August 3, 2010).
32	 Amy L. Solomon, et al., Putting Public Safety First: 13 Parole Supervision
Strategies to Enhance Reentry Outcomes. Washington D.C.: The Urban
Institute: Justice Policy Center, December 2008.
33	 Adrienne Austin, Criminal Justice Trends: Key Legislative Changes in Sentencing Policy, 2001-2010. New York: Vera Institute of Justice, September
34	 Fiscal Impact Statement of Colorado H.B. 1352.
35	 Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, “One
in 31,”
(accessed October 15, 2010).

40	 Douglas B. Marlowe, The Facts on Adult Drug Courts, Alexandria, VA:
National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 2010.
41	 Ibid.
42	 T. Tanielian and L.H. Jaycox, Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and
Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery,
Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2008. Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration, The NSDUH Report: Serious Psychological Distress and Substance Use Disorder among Veterans, Rockville, MD:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of
Applied Studies, 2007.
43	 Elizabeth McNichol, Phil Oliff, and Nicholas Johnson, States Continue to
Feel Recession’s Impact. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities, (accessed August 10,

36	 Peggy Burke, When Offenders Break the Rules: Smart Responses to Parole
and Probation, Washington, DC: The Pew Center on the States, Public
Safety Performance Project, 2007.


This report is based on a survey of 44 state departments of corrections and a scan of recently passed legislation, both conducted
by the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. Alison Shames contributed to the production of the report
as a writer and manager. Michael Woodruff coordinated the survey of states, contributed as a writer, and designed interactive data
visualizations for Vera’s website. Alissa Cambier provided support by checking legislation and as a writer. Rebecca Tublitz revised
data visualizations in the report and online. We would especially like to thank Danielle Vildostegui for her help on the survey and as a
writer; Kate McMahon for her help as a researcher and writer; the communications team at Vera (Jules Verdone and Robin ­Campbell
for editing; Abbi Leman for layout and copyediting; and Michael Mehler for website assistance); and Peggy McGarry and Daniel
Wilhelm for their insight and guidance throughout the drafting process. Thank you also to Adam Gelb and Ryan King at the Public
Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States for their helpful review of earlier drafts of this report.

© Vera Institute of Justice 2010. All rights reserved.
Additional copies are available from the Vera Institute of Justice, 233 Broadway, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10279, (212) 334-1300.
An electronic version is posted on Vera’s website at
For more information about Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections, contact the center’s director, Peggy McGarry, at
The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent nonprofit organization that combines expertise in research, demonstration projects,
and technical assistance to help leaders in government and civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety.

Suggested Citation
The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course. New York: Vera
Institute of Justice, October 2010.

This project was funded by the Public Safety
Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States.


233 Broadway, 12th Floor

Tel: (212) 334-1300

New York, NY 10279

Fax: (212) 941-9407



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