Justice Reinvestment Initiative leads Prison Reform

The Best Of: The following article, first published on May 14, 2012, describes the critical role the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative”, led by the PEW Center for the States and the Council of State Governments, have had on the prison reform movement.

A recent Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) funded initiative is having an extraordinary effect on prison reform efforts in states across the nation. The “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” is a joint project of the PEW Center for the States, the Council of State Governmant and the Vera Institute They are providing assistance and support to states in an effort to reduce prison populations,  establish non-prison penalties for non-violent offenses, increase good time/work time for prisoners, and generally encouraging states to return or keep prisoners in local jurisdictions, while reinvesting funds saved by these reforms in “alternatives to prison”. The Council of State Government’s National Reentry Resource Center has a Resource Project Page devoted to the  “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” To access it, click on the page facsimile on the left.

According to information provided by BJA, “Justice Reinvestment is a data-driven approach to reduce corrections spending and re-direct savings to other criminal justice strategies that decrease crime and strengthen neighborhoods. They work closely with state and local policymakers to help design policies that manage the growth of the corrections system. They are finding ways to improve the availability of services, such as housing, substance abuse treatment, employment training, and positive social and family support for offenders returning to communities. They are also looking to reinvest savings generated from reductions in corrections spending to make communities safer, stronger, and healthier.”

What is incontrovertable, is that states are adopting the policy changes advocated and are passing ground-breaking reforms in many of the most conservative states in the nation (most recently Georgia, Oaklahoma, and Louisians; see articles in Facebook collumn on the right side of website).  To access comprehensive information on what the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” is doing in a listed state, just click on the state below, and you will be linked directly to National Reentry Resource Center information:

Oklahoma turns back on Prison Reform

March 18,2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 11.57.54 AMOaklahoma consistently is among the top five states in the use of incarceration (number one for women). Under these circumstances one might expect it to follow in the steps of its conservative neighbors, especilly Texas, who have led in the extraordinary reduction in imprisonment and adoption of alternative to prison policies.

That was the case until recently, when according to the City Centinel, Governor Mary Fallin’s administration did an about face in its commitment to prison reform. The “justice reinvestment” initiative” (JRI), has in recent weeks seen a substantial weakening of prison reform plans, culminating in the resignation of JRI author Kris Steele, former speaker of the state House, from the inter-agency and private sector working group that was overseeing implementation”….Once again according to the Sentinel,”Gov. Mary Fallin’s legal counsel, Steve Mullins, has guided major shifts in administration and oversight in recent weeks, effectively gutting the infrastructure that led implementation until mid-February.”

The easiest way to follow the conflict and its various parambuations is to look at the individuals these changes are likely to affect.

According to Corrections Officials,” only a handful of parole violators were in the agency’s pipeline for intermediate sanctions (short of a return to full-fledged imprisonment) for what were described as technical rather than substantive or deliberate parole violations. While” Mental Health Department officials, in contrast, described early implementation touching more than 120 individuals…”

The “Tulsa World” describes this latest failure of will, as just one of a long history of planned prison reform failures in Oklahoma. This, of course, is just another example of the backsliding we are observing, as conservative states and jurisdictions actually come up against real reform and its consequences. More than a few step back from the brink, a phenomenum that is important to note and report as happens.

As I’ve descried in the past, the failure of states to embrace reform is important to note, but failures to implement or provide the  structure, resource or institutional support that can make prison reform and reductions in recidivism real, are a more insidious form of failure, that we need to be ever vigilant about.

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