E-Bulletin: Sentencing and Corrections Policy Updates Newsletter

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The E-Bulletin is an NCSL electronic newsletter for state legislators, legislative staff, and others interested in state sentencing corrections policy. This newsletter provides periodic updates on state sentencing and corrections legislation and budgets, highlights innovative policies and programs, and connects you with reports and news of upcoming NCSL events.

The E-Bulletin is prepared under a partnership project of NCSL's Criminal Justice Program and the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States.  The NCSL project is designed to help states find the best research and information availale when considering sentencing and corrections policy options and reforms.

This article appeared in the E-Bulletin, January 2012 issue. (Full newsletter in pdf)

On the Fiscal Front:  Reorganization of Sentencing and Corrections Entities

In 2011, at least seven states restructured state entities charged with sentencing and supervising adults offenders.

To address budget gaps in recent years, policymakers have cut spending, enacted revenue increases, used rainy day and federal funds, and used various other measures to satisfy stautory and constitutional balanced budget requirements.  Among state spending cuts, some have sought to eliminate or consolidate various state entities, including departments, agencies, offices, divisions, boards, commissions and councils.  In 2011, at least seven states eliminated and/or consolidiates state entities charged with sentencing and supervising adult offenders.

Parole Boards

Parole boards in four states - KansasMichiganNew York and Washington - no longer are independent state entities.  In Kansas, Michigan and Washington, the boards were transferred into the corrections department.  New York's Division of Parole - which was charged with both release decisions and post-prison supervisions - and Department of Correctionsl Services were merged into the newly created Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Under new structures the head of the corrections department in Kansas and Michigan now will be responsible for board appointments, while the governors in New York and Washington retain the authority to appoint the chair and/or members to the board.

Although the parole boards will maintain independent authority over release decisions, staffing and administrative support will be assumed by the corrections departments.  The Michigan and New York laws cite a greater efficiency of the corrections systems as a result of change.  In Washington, the fiscal note provided by the Department of Corrections found that the transfer of administrative duties will reduce staffing needs and result in a net savings of $427,000 for FY 2012 and will offer continued savings in future years.

Other eliminations and consolidations in 2011 include:

  • In California, the Council on Criminal Justice (an independent board), the Corrections Standards Authority (within the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation), and the Governor's Office of Gang and Youth Violence Policy are set to be eliminated in 2013; the newly created Board of State and Community Corrections will assume many of the responsibilities.  The new board will also provide leadership, coordination and research expertise to state and local corrections systems.
  • Nebraska eliminated the governing board of the Community Corrections Council and created the Community Corrections Division within the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice to assume the council’s responsibilities. Council staff will be transferred to the new division with a neutral budgetary impact, but elimination of the council is estimated to save the state $31,000 per year.
  • North Carolina consolidated the departments of Crime Control and Public Safety, Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and Corrections into a single Department of Public Safety. The new department allows coordination of administrative and facility management functions of the juvenile and adult systems. Net savings are estimated at $1.1 million in FY 2011-12 and $3.6 million in FY 2012-13; additional future savings are anticipated in areas such as purchasing and training.
  • In addition to merging the parole board, Washington made the previously independent Sentencing Guidelines Commission into an advisory agency within the Office of Financial Management. The commission will advise the legislature and governor as necessary, but other responsibilities of the commission­--such as maintaining the state’s sentencing information system and databases, publishing annual sentencing manuals and reports, and serving as a clearinghouse and information center on sentencing--will be assumed by the Caseload Forecast Council. The fiscal note projects that the Caseload Forecast Council and the Office of Financial Management will incur increased staffing and administrative costs; however, savings from elimination of the commission as an independent agency should result in a net savings to the state.

At lease two states are studying the possibility of restructure.  A Massachusetts law this year established a special commission to, among other duties, investigate the effectiveness of the Office of Community Corrections and the feasibility of relocating it to the executive Office of Public Safety and Security.  New Mexico requested a study on the viability of moving supervision of probationers from the Probation and Parole Division of the Corrections Department to the Judicial Department.