Innovations in Community Corrections: Controlling Crime, Prison Populations and Costs

NCSL Resources

Front Page of report on Innovations in Community CorrectionsThe overall state prison population declined for the first time in 38 years in 2009. According to a Department of Justice report, 24 states reported a drop in prison population.  Rhode Island’s 9.2 percent decline was the highest in the nation; Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan and Mississippi also experienced declines of more than 4 percent. Of the 24 states with prison growth, Alaska, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Vermont and West Virginia reported increases of more than 4 percent

States are heading into the third consecutive fiscal year of declining revenues and large budget gaps. The fiscal outlook remains troubling for FY 2011, FY 2012 and beyond. According to NCSL budget information, corrections spending accounts for about 6 percent of state general fund budgets, and lawmakers in many states have made it a priority to control prison populations and subsequent costs. 

Today, states increasingly have access to tools to help identify and analyze causes of prison growth. As legislators weigh various sentencing and corrections policy options, they can use such information to allocate scarce resources to programs and policies that promote public safety and reduce recidivism. These decisions play a key role in state prison population increases and decreases.

A slower growth rate in state prison populations in 2007 was attributed to fewer people sentenced to prison. In 2008, more people were released from prison than in previous years, further slowing prison growth. These two factors ultimately contributed to the drop in population in 2009. As fewer people are sentenced to prison and more are released, many offenders will serve at least a portion of their sentence in the community, rather than in prison. Increasingly, states are investing in community-based policies and programs that can safely reduce prison populations and costs.  These strategies take several forms, including creating incentive funding streams; investing in evidence-based practices; addressing offender needs; and obtaining assistance from federal agencies and other organizations.