E-Bulletin: Sentencing and Corrections Policy Updates



Interim Work on Sentencing and Corrections

A number of interim committees are wrapping up work as 2014 legislative sessions get under way.

South Carolina Reinvestment

The South Carolina Sentencing Reform Oversight Committee is responsible for overseeing implementation of a 2010 omnibus sentencing and corrections law and making recommendations to the General Assembly on reinvestment of savings from the act. The 2013 savings report, issued by the committee, found that the state saved over $5 million in FY 2013. The savings are avoided costs from fewer offenders going into prison, particularly a reduction in the number of offenders sent to prison for probation and parole rule revocations. The committee has recommended to the General Assembly to reinvest $1.8 million (the maximum portion of savings eligible for reinvestment) into caseload management strategies, evidence-based probation supervision and victim support services. Read the savings report

South Carolina’s 2010 act was part of a justice reinvestment strategy that a growing number of states are pursuing. For a summary of the South Carolina act and other states pursuing justice reinvestment, check out the NCSL "Justice Reinvestment Crime Brief." Read the brief 

Justice Reinvestment Proposals

Three states­—Idaho, Michigan, and Mississippi­—are currently working on justice reinvestment reforms for the 2014 session.

  • Idaho’s Criminal Justice Reinvestment Interim Committee was instructed by the Legislature to study and identify data-driven, fiscally responsible policies and practices that can increase public safety, reduce recidivism and reduce spending on corrections. The committee is currently considering a set of policy recommendations for legislation in 2014.
  • In 2013, the Michigan Legislature instructed the Criminal Law Revision Commission to study the state’s sentencing laws and make recommendations for change. Using a justice reinvestment process, the commission is currently collecting and analyzing sentencing and offender data to identify drivers of corrections populations and costs. In early 2014, they will develop policy recommendations for consideration by the Legislature that will manage corrections resources and spending.
  • The Mississippi Corrections and Criminal Justice Task Force was created by the Legislature in 2013 to  study the state’s sentencing and corrections systems and develop policies that improve public safety, ensure clarity in sentencing, and control corrections costs. In December 2013, the task force submitted recommendations to the Legislature that would reform sentencing laws, expand judicial discretion, strengthen community supervision and establish performance measures. The recommendations are projected to stop prison growth and avert $266 million in corrections spending through 2024.

Visit NCSL's justice reinvestment web page

Indiana's Study Committee

In 2013, the Indiana General Assembly enacted a criminal code rewrite, which included replacing a four-level felony classification system with a six-level system, creating degrees of theft and drug possession, and modifying inmate good time laws. The law also created an interim study committee to review the legislation, oversee implementation and recommend additional changes as needed. The committee recently reviewed an analysis of the 2013 law on future prison population growth. Read the analysis of the 2013 law

Top of page

Issue in Focus

Ex-Offender Employment Opportunities

An update on state laws that help offenders secure employment after release from prison.

When offenders are released from prison, one of the first things they have to do is find employment. However, having a criminal record can make finding a job, especially a well-paying one, more difficult. States have adopted a number of policies in an effort  to balance business interests with employment opportunities that help ex-offenders become productive members of the community. These policies are described in a 2011 NCSL report Ex-Offender Employment Opportunities. Below is an update to some of the policies discussed in that report. Read the NCSL report

Hiring Regulations: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a revised guidance on the application of Title VII that reinforced the determination that denying employment based only on conviction has an adverse effect on minorities and that companies must show a “business necessity” for maintaining criminal records policies. Read the EEOC's revised guidance

Proof of Rehabilitation: Administratively issued certificates is one policy states have adopted to indicate that an offender has been successfully rehabilitated. The District of Columbia and Rhode Island have created certificates in recent years. Rhode Island’s policy allows individuals with convictions, other than certain violent crimes, to petition the parole board for a certificate. In 2012, Illinois expanded eligibility for these certificates by allowing offenders with two or more felony convictions to apply.

Application: Ban the box” policies, which exist in nine states, prohibit employers from inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history on a job application. Five states passed legislation in 2013 related to this issue. Minnesota extended its prohibition to include private employers; it previously applied only to state and local government employers. Four states—California, Maryland, North Carolina and Rhode Island—established policies. Maryland’s legislation prohibits the judicial, legislative and executive branches from inquiring into an applicant’s criminal record until the applicant has been provided the opportunity for an interview.

Employer Liability and Incentives: Some states limit the liability of employers who hire ex-offenders or offer incentives to the employers who hire ex-offenders. Texas legislation in 2013 prohibited lawsuits against employers for negligent hiring or failure to adequately supervise an employee based on evidence that the employee has been convicted of a criminal offense. In 2012, the District of Columbia passed legislation limiting liability for employers by prohibiting the use of an employees’ criminal history information as evidence in a civil action against an employer as long as the employer can demonstrate that the criminal history was considered during the hiring process in conjunction with the prospective employee’s ability to perform the job.

Federal Support: The federal Second Chance Act of 2007 provides grants to states, local governments and community-based organizations to support the development of innovative, evidence-based reentry programs. An interim report and program snapshots were recently released that provides evaluation results from 10 grantees that received funding in 2009. The programs evaluated target adults returning to the community after incarceration and provide services such as education and employment training and assistance. The final report is due in 2015. Read the interim report

The Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013 (S. 1690, H.R. 3465) was introduced in November 2013. The legislation would expand the number of grant programs available and places greater focus on data collection and tracking outcomes, such as recidivism rates of offenders who participate in reentry programs.

Read the Senate bill 

Read the House bill

The American Bar Association has developed a "collateral consequences" database. The searchable database contains state laws that impose sanctions or restrictions as a result of a criminal conviction, including employment and professional and business licenses. Visit the database

Top of page

Fiscal Front

State Budget Actions

A new NCSL report provides an overview of FY 2013 and 2014 state spending, including corrections budgets.

State fiscal conditions continued to improve in fiscal year 2013, according to NCSL’s "State Budget Actions FY 2013 and FY 2014" report. Corrections spending which accounts for just over 5 percent of state general fund budgets, had essentially flat growth in FY 2013 and is budgeted to grow by 2.5 percent in FY 2014.
Read NCSL's budget report

Forty-one states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico expect to spend more in total state funds for corrections in FY 2014 than they spent last year. Four states­—Connecticut, Maine, Nebraska, and North Dakota—and Puerto Rico increased total state support for corrections by 5 percent or more. Maine reported the largest increase (12.8 percent). However, officials noted that the growth rate does not include any salary and benefits savings.

Eight states­—Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Wyoming—reported a drop. In four of those states, the budgeted decrease is less than 2 percent. Wyoming reported the largest decrease at -7.9 percent, due in part to 2013 session reductions enacted by the Legislature. Growth in New Jersey is essentially flat.

Other FY 2014 developments in total state funding for corrections include:

  • Connecticut has budgeted a 5.7 percent increase, largely to cover wage and salary related increases.
  • In North Dakota, corrections is budgeted to grow by 8.2 percent to expand the prison system. This includes additional employees and increased probation and incarceration requirements as a result of enacted stricter driving under the influence (DUI) laws.
  • Virginia’s budgeted increase of 3.9 percent is attributable to increased labor costs and health care costs for inmates.
  • In Rhode Island, the projected 0.5 percent decline in corrections funding reflects the impact of a facility closure.

Top of page


  • The Bureau of Justice Statistics released four reports in late 2013 related to correctional populations and costs. These include:
  • Over the past five years, the majority of states reduced both crime and imprisonment rates. An infographic from The Pew Charitable Trusts highlights these rates.
  • A fact sheet by the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts summarizes research on the relationship between the amount of time served in prison and recidivism. Research suggests there is no consistent link, positive or negative, between the two.
  • Pretrial Criminal Justice Research summarizes three research projects commissioned by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation on the effects pretrial decision-making has on public safety and cost effectiveness.
  • A recent study conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts compares recidivism rates for New Jersey inmates who are released onto parole supervision and those who serve their entire sentence in prison—called maxing out—and therefore released without supervision.
  • The Iowa Legislative Services Agency published Cost-Benefit Analysis of Adult Drug Courts. The Issue Review provides a summary of national and Iowa-specific research on the effectiveness of adult drug courts, an overview of programs currently operating in the state and an analysis of the costs and benefits of those programs.
  • Managing Prison Health Care Spending, from The Pew Charitable Trusts and MacArthur Foundation, examines the growth in state spending on inmate health care and explores cost saving policy options.

Top of page