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December 22, 2010

Lawmakers Work Together to Make Communities Safer

An NCSL bi-partisan work group will develop principles of effective sentencing and corrections policy.

Addressing safety concerns for American citizens has been identified by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) as a top issue for lawmakers during 2011 legislative sessions. In an effort to improve public safety, legislators will focus on sentencing, corrections and offender reentry policies. All of these issues come with a price tag, so lawmakers will be looking at innovative approaches that are both effective and cost-efficient.

“States are the incubators for ideas,” said Representative Jerry Madden of Texas. “They don’t come from one political party or the other. Now is a prime opportunity to highlight the good ideas, especially those that achieve better results and conserve taxpayer dollars. Corrections is an area where several states have shown we can have less crime at a lower cost.”

An NCSL Sentencing and Corrections Work Group, co-chaired by Representative Madden and Representative Janice Pauls of Kansas, is developing a set of principles to use as a guide for state legislatures on effective sentencing and corrections policy. The group met on Dec. 9 in Phoenix, Ariz., in conjunction with NCSL’s Fall Forum of the Standing Committees. The group first convened at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Louisville, Ky., on July 28, 2010, to determine the range of issues to be addressed in the principles. The bipartisan 19-member work group, which includes officers of NCSL’s Law and Criminal Justice Committee and other legislators recognized as leaders on these issues, discussed the importance of data-driven policies that reduce recidivism, control corrections spending and ultimately protect public safety. Members also examined policies such as revising felony theft threshold limits, risk assessments, diversion and reentry programs, and use of technology like GPS tracking to supervise low-risk offenders in the community.

“The group’s discussion in Phoenix tapped the expertise of our members, and considered the interests and attitudes of the public,”  said Representative Pauls. “Moving forward, we will develop a set of principles that will be objective in ideology and evergreen in guiding lawmakers on issues of rehabilitation, accountability and public safety.”

Rather than being aligned with any particular opinion or approach, the principles are being designed to provide broad and balanced guidance to state policymakers in reviewing and enacting policies affecting community safety, management of criminal offenders, and allocation of corrections resources.

The Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States has worked with NCSL to assemble and convene this group. The principles crafted by the work group are scheduled to be released at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in San Antonio, Texas, in early August 2011.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.