Looking for Alternatives

Pointer  Online Extra


March 2009




In the 2008 legislative session, state lawmakers addressed a variety of sentencing and corrections issues including: alternatives to incarceration; probation and parole supervision; prison programming, early release from incarceration; and reentry measures. States created task forces to study a number of issues related to sentencing and corrections. Many of these policies were aimed at cost savings while maintaining public safety.  

Some of the highlights from the 2008 legislative session include:

  • States amended their sentencing laws by increasing options available to judges for sentencing low level offenders. Four states created or expanded their specialty courts. Louisiana authorized a new mental health court and a drug court. Tennessee created an advisory committee to oversee the state drug court system. Mississippi is expanding its drug courts and Oklahoma created drug courts for misdemeanor cases. A fifth state, Vermont, is looking into the feasibility of expanding their drug courts statewide. At least seven states—Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and South Carolina— created or expanded community options, such as intensive supervision probation, for sentencing in lieu of incarceration. Connecticut instructed the sentencing task force to make a recommendation on whether or not to establish a permanent sentencing commission.  

  • Legislatures created policies aimed at reducing the number of offenders being incarcerated because of  unsuccessfully completing community supervision. Arizona is allocating funds to local probation departments to reduce the number of revocations. Provisions were added to the Pennsylvania's sentencing guidelines for re-sentencing probation violators and recommitting parole violators. Wyoming legislators authorized the creation of administrative sanctions to be used as an alternative to revocation for parole violations. Arizona granted earned time to offenders who are compliant with their probation program plan. Wyoming authorized earned time for parolees. Vermont placed a cap on the number of offenders on community supervision caseloads.

  • Prison programming was increased in a handful of states, with the goal of better preparing inmates for eventual release into the community. Louisiana and Maine expanded work and employment training opportunities for inmates. Idaho, Oregon and South Dakota increased the availability of substance abuse treatment for inmates. New York established mental health treatment units inside state correctional facilities.

  • Early release measures were the focus in a number of states. At least eight states created or amended medical parole policies, Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio and Wyoming. States also addressed parole eligibility. Kentucky granted the parole board permission to review parole applications for low-level offenders without a hearing. New York increased the discretion parole board have to discharge parole.

  • Legislatures created assistance for offenders who were re-entering into the community after a period of incarceration. Colorado and Ohio provided inmates with help accessing health care, counseling, housing, and employment. Colorado created grants to counties and Ohio created a community coalition to execute the assistance. Tennessee now allows inmates to be transferred to local correctional facilities to participate in reentry programming.

  • System wide changes were also made 2008. Maine created a unified correctional system. Development, implementation and evaluation will be conducted by a newly established State Board of Corrections. Vermont consolidated two women's prisons and converted one into a therapeutic work camp for men. Both states expect to realize a savings to their corrections budgets through these consolidations.

  • With rising correctional costs and increasing prison populations, state legislatures commissioned task forces to research sentencing and corrections for action in upcoming legislative sessions. Connecticut is requiring racial and ethnic impact statement for all bills that could impact the pretrial and sentenced population in correctional facilities. Tennessee is requesting the fiscal review committee research incarceration costs.  At least six states commissioned broad studies on crimes, sentencing and incarceration issues in their states including; Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and South Dakota. Colorado and Oklahoma are looking at mental illness in the criminal justice system. Vermont is studying the use of transition units for work release. Three states, Hawaii, Tennessee, and Vermont, have commissioned studies on children of incarcerated parents.

 Crime Costs and the State of Corrections, March 2009