Significant State Sentencing and Corrections Legislation in 2009

Amid the most difficult economic situation since the Great Depression, state legislatures addressed sentencing and corrections policies that better manage correctional populations and budgets.  In 2009, states fine-tuned sentencing laws, expanded community-based diversion programs, and created policies and programs aimed at reducing recidivism. California, Delaware, Maryland, Montana, Oregon and Washington increased the monetary thresholds for theft-related crimes, to better align low-level offenses with less severe penalties. States required presentence risk assessments to identify defendants appropriate for community-based sentences. In Illinois and New Hampshire, presentence screening that includes treatment recommendations must be completed for current military or veterans diagnosed with a mental illness.  

Legislatures expanded access to substance abuse treatment by creating secure programs for more serious offenders and community-based programs for probation and parole violators. A measure in Kentucky places offenders, identified by pretrial screening as having substance abuse issues, in community-based or secure substance abuse treatment. Florida and North Dakota have designated specific substance abuse treatment programs as sanctions for probation and parole violations. States also relaxed mandatory sentences for drug offenders.  New York amended the “Rockefeller Drug Laws” by decreasing mandatory minimums, expanding probation eligibility, and permitting departures from mandatory incarceration for various felony drug offenses.

California, Colorado, Illinois and Montana enacted performance incentive funding policies that provide funds to counties for reducing probation revocations to state prisons. In California, recidivism reduction programming must be evidence-based and funding provided to counties is directly related to costs avoided by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation due to a decrease in probation revocation admissions. Programs created in Colorado and Montana focus on mentally ill offenders. 

Additional sentencing and corrections issues addressed in 2009 include creating or expanding inmate good time policies; permitting early termination of community supervision; and assisting inmates and newly released offenders with resources for reentry such as identification, housing, and employment. Thirteen states commissioned task forces or studies on a variety of issues related to sentencing and supervision of criminal offenders that legislatures expect to address in the 2010 or 2011 sessions.

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Sentencing Policy and Options

Community Supervision

Facility Administration and Programming

Release and Transition


Postpones development of voluntary truth-in-sentencing standards.

Authorizes a county alternative sentencing program and pretrial diversion programs.  


Creates a county work release program.


Alaska (N/A)






Adds mitigating and aggravating sentence lengths for the crime of multiple drug offenses not committed on the same occasion.

Increases the maximum probation caseload.





Establishes the Arkansas Legislative Task Force on Criminal Justice to analyze initial charges versus final dispositions.


Allows disposing of a probation violation in the same manner as a contempt of court offense. Permits dismissal or expungement upon completion of a drug court program.

Permits contracting with state or private entities for inmate education.


Instructs the Parole Board to consider inmate’s participation in programming for release to parole. Creates a certificate of successful completion of incarceration for released inmates. Requires a license to operate offender transitional housing.


Increases the monetary threshold for felony theft and additional property crimes.

Grants funds to counties for reducing revocations to prison due to probation violations by using evidence-based supervision and rehabilitative services. Creates a program that uses a “parole violation decisionmaking tool” to determine intermediate sanctions for parole violations. Prohibits returning certain low-level parole violators to prison. Permits local courts to operate deferred judgment programs for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders.

Permits flexibility in placement of new correctional bed space provided for in the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act of 2007.

Creates earned time for completion of rehabilitative programming. Permits inmate firefighters and inmates trained in conservation or firefighting to earn sentence credits. Permits operation of a reentry court. Permits the Board of Parole Hearings to grant release without a hearing under certain circumstances.



Instructs the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to study sentencing reform.

Grants funds to counties for recidivism reduction programs for mentally ill offenders.


Requires inmates to pay for college-level education programs.

Creates good time for jail inmates. Permits parole violators awaiting a revocation hearing to earn good time. Increases the amount of good time for prison inmates and adds a 60-day credit; appropriates future savings from the credit to recidivism reduction programs. Authorizes a program to provide jail inmates with identification. Requires creation and implementation of a process for collecting information on parole board decisions, including rationale for decisions, recidivism rates and types of reentry.




Requires quarterly reports on inmate assaults and disciplinary reports, workers compensation, and prison population density.



Increases the monetary threshold for felony theft.



Permits occupational boards to grant waivers for convictions substantially related to the profession by a hearing or review of documentation provided the applicant meets specified criteria.


Grants courts discretion to order probation for non-felony offenders determined to have a low risk of reoffending. Requires the court to sentence nonviolent, low-risk offenders to a prison diversion program unless it is determined he or she poses a risk to the public. Permits a community supervision sentence to include drug court.  

Creates a prison diversion program for nonviolent offenders. Permits the use of drug courts as a sanction for probation and community control violations related to substance abuse.





Permits a continuum of sanctions for probation violations. Creates an electronic pretrial and monitoring program.


Expands eligibility for work release and transitional centers for violent offenders during the final year of incarceration.



Creates a drug treatment facility as a probation sentencing option.


Creates a parole reentry program.


Clarifies a mental health examination is not required if a previous one provides the necessary information.





Creates the Sentencing Policy and Advisory Council to review current and proposed sentencing policies and practices and to examine any impact on the criminal justice system. Creates a task force to develop a standard risk assessment tool for use across the criminal justice system. Requires the court to consider treatment options when sentencing members of the armed forces diagnosed with a mental illness.

Provides local jurisdictions funds to reduce revocations to prison by using intermediate sanctions and treatment alternatives for nonviolent offenders. Requires a portion of community programming be evidence-based and that risk assessments be used for supervision.

Requires a case plan, based on risk assessments, to determine prison programming. Requires implementation of evidence-based programming. Requires training for correctional employees on evidence-based practices. Requires correctional facilities to provide voluntary addiction recovery services. Creates informational material for families and children of incarcerated parents.

Permits revocation of good time for misconduct in a county jail. Creates the Task Force on Inventorying Employment Restrictions to review employment restrictions based on criminal record. 




Instructs the Sentencing Policy Advisory Committee to evaluate whether costs of a trial for an offense committed in a correctional facility should be covered by the state.

Permits inmate wages to be saved for reentry.



Decreases funding for a probation and parole violator program.



Kansas (N/A)






Requires pretrial substance abuse screening for felony offenders. Continues the Penal Code Study Committee. Applies time on parole to the total sentence length except for violent offenders, sex offenders and parole violators convicted of a new crime. 

Creates a pretrial substance abuse diversion program.

Creates an intensive substance abuse program in a minimum security correctional facility.

Requires the Parole Board to review low-risk inmates for release after serving a minimum period of confinement. Increases the time violent and sex offenders must serve before release.


Authorizes local courts to operate specialized dockets. Permits a sentence of incarceration to include a term of house arrest and increases the length of time a court is permitted to order house arrest.

Permits intensive incarceration for drug diversion probation violations. Permits dismissal of a conviction for successful completion of probation or intensive incarceration.

Creates an entrepreneurial skills prison program.

Removes the limit on amount of good time an inmate can earn for program participation and permits the restoration of time previously forfeited. Permits certain violent and repeat offenders to participate in work release during the final period of confinement. Authorizes inmates in work release programs to work off the coast of Louisiana. Allows work release wages to cover cost of room, board and additional administrative costs. Prohibits work release facilities from being located near a school or day care. Permits inmates serving life sentences for certain drug convictions to be considered for parole after serving a minimum term.


Streamlines the process for court-ordered mental health examinations.

Authorizes a community confinement program for moderate or low-risk inmates to serve the final portion of confinement in structured community-based programming. Authorizes a pretrial diversion program for “worthless check” offenses. Creates a community intervention program that addresses offenders' risk of recidivism.


Expands the definition of a terminally ill inmate and permits release to community confinement.


Divides the crime of theft of property or services into two classes and decreases the penalties for the lesser offense. Permits extending a term of probation for participation in substance abuse treatment.


Continues the Task Force to Study Prison Violence.

Expands conditional release eligibility for nonviolent inmates. Prohibits conditional release for violent offenders until after his or her parole eligibility date. Provides identification to inmates upon release. Prohibits state agencies from denying an occupational license based solely on a conviction that is nonviolent and unrelated to the occupation. Establishes a task force on prisoner reentry.

Massachusetts (N/A)





Michigan (N/A)






Allows a sentence departure for certain low-level drug crimes. Prohibits imprisonment or extension of probation for nonpayment of fines.

Limits length of confinement for first-time violations of supervised release. Instructs the Department of Corrections to study the use of evidence-based practices in community supervision.

Prohibits cutting inmate education, chemical dependency programs or reentry programs in correctional facilities and requires Challenge Incarceration program beds to be kept full. Permits an intermediate sanctions facility pilot program for probation violators. Creates a task force to research strategies for reducing prison costs. Instructs correctional industries to create a marketing plan to attract business from state and local governments.

Eliminates a program allowing inmates to serve the final portion of incarceration in a county jail.



Eliminates the maximum length of participation in the intensive supervision program and permits drug offenders to participate. Permits suspension of a sentence for misdemeanor convictions after initial sentencing under certain circumstances.


Removes the limit on the amount of earned time that can be accumulated for program participation.




Separates inmates in private jails according to gender and if they are confined for a civil or criminal reason.



Raises the monetary threshold for felony property theft.

Grants funds to counties for programs that reduce admissions of mentally ill offenders to the state hospital. Permits conditional discharge from probation or parole.

Permits wages earned in prison industries to be saved for release.



Creates the Sentencing and Recidivism Task Force to study equality in sentencing and effectiveness of reentry programs.



Authorizes the director of Correctional Services to assign inmates to work camp.


Narrows the definition of habitual criminal. Requires the court to collect data on criminal cases, including specialty courts.

Allows probationers convicted of gross misdemeanors or felonies to earn time for work or program participation. Creates a specialized court for veterans or active military with mental illness, substance abuse or post-traumatic stress. Removes the waiting period for sealing a record related to completion of a specialty court and requires sealing a record related to completion of a substance abuse presentence program.

Requires the Department of Corrections to research the effectiveness of vocational and educational prison programs and track recidivism rates and to monitor private correctional facilities that house out-of-state inmates.

Permits parole violators to earn good time while incarcerated. Allows certain low-level offenders to be granted parole without a hearing. Expands eligibility for residential confinement.


New Hampshire

Requires a pre-sentence report with treatment recommendations for members or veterans of the armed forces who have a diagnosed mental illness.

Establishes the Division of Community Corrections to operate services for probationers and parolees and serve as the liaison between the DOC, community-based providers, courts, and state and federal entities. Establishes the position of director of Community Corrections to oversee the Division of Community Corrections.

Creates a committee to study correctional health care services, inmate access to health care, mental health care, and substance abuse treatment.

Establishes the Division of Community Corrections to oversee services preparing inmates for release, transitional housing and work release programs. Commissions a study on the use of nursing facilities for medically paroled inmates.

New Jersey

Establishes the Criminal Sentencing Commission to conduct a review of the state's criminal sentencing provisions and repeals two commissions designed to study sentencing.




New Mexico (N/A)





New York

Amends felony drug sentencing by allowing a sentence to shock incarceration, decreasing certain mandatory minimum terms of incarceration, expanding probation eligibility, and permitting departures from mandatory incarceration. Permits resentencing previous convictions in accordance with new felony drug sentencing laws. Permits extending a term of probation for continued participation in treatment.

Instructs the Board of Parole to use graduated sanctions and risk assessments for parole supervision. Creates a jail diversion treatment program that includes intermediate sanctions for drug and nonviolent offenders. Permits conditionally sealing records of certain drug and nonviolent offenders who complete a drug diversion program.


Expands eligibility for the shock incarceration program.

Creates earned time for completing specified educational or work programs. Expands eligibility for medical parole and requires a discharge plan. Establishes Local Conditional Release Commissions to review and grant releases from local correctional facilities. Instructs the Board of Parole to consider new felony drug sentencing laws when considering the release of inmates sentenced under the previous laws. Creates a pilot project for soon-to-be released inmates to apply for medical assistance.

North Carolina

Creates a procedure for determining pretrial release when a probationer is charged with a new crime. Adjusts sentence lengths of offense classes to make more proportional. Restructures point levels assigned to prior convictions used to determine current sentence length.

Expands eligibility for community punishment based on risk assessments. Permits house arrest to be used for pretrial release. Authorizes notification of supervision violation hearings via U.S. mail for unsupervised probationers. Makes it a crime to interfere with an electronic monitoring device used for community supervision. Authorizes transferring misdemeanants to unsupervised probation. Gives local courts exclusive jurisdiction over all supervision and revocation hearings for probationers in drug court.

Creates a pilot program to conduct court proceedings that involve inmates via video conference.



North Dakota

Continues the Commission on Alternatives to Incarceration which studies sentencing alternatives, mandatory sentences, treatment options, and problem-solving courts.

Permits use of the 24/7 sobriety treatment program as an intermediate sanction for probation violations or as a condition for parole.

Appropriates funds for prison construction and expansion. Permits inmate medical, psychological and treatment records to be used for conducting research.


Ohio (N/A)






Permits certain offenders with a prior violent conviction to be considered for drug court. Places a time limit on using a prior conviction to determine a current charge or conviction.

Prohibits a deferred sentence for probation and parole violations.

Increases the required inmate proficiency level. Authorizes correctional facilities to serve free meals to employees.

Narrows the prohibition on transitional facilities being located near a school or residential neighborhood to only those that house sex offenders or offenders with a capital offense.


Increases the monetary threshold for the crimes of theft, theft of services, criminal mischief, and fraudulent use of a credit card. Suspends implementation of a provision in Measure 57 (approved by voters in 2008) that would increase penalties for certain property and drug crimes.

Limits confinement length for technical probation violations. Permits transferring to inactive supervision offenders who have served a minimum period on community supervision and remained compliant. Suspends implementation of a provision in Measure 57 (approved by voters in 2008) that would provide drug treatment services for medium- to high-risk offenders.



Creates good time for completing educational courses or apprentice certifications. Increases the amount of earned time a nonviolent inmate can accumulate and makes it retroactive. Allows seriously mentally ill inmates to apply for public assistance before release. Provides inmates with verification of work history and certification of programming completed at the time of release.



Codifies provisions relating to probation and parole by creating the Prisons and Parole Code.

Codifies provisions relating to prisons by creating the Prisons and Parole Code.


Rhode Island

Removes the mandatory minimum sentence for manufacturing, selling or possessing a controlled substance.

Permits a parolee whose sentence termination date is scheduled on a weekend or holiday to be released the preceding business day.


Permits an inmate scheduled to be released on a weekend or holiday to be released the preceding business day.

South Carolina

Continues the Sentencing Reform Commission’s review of sentencing guidelines, parole and alternative sentencing.




South Dakota



Authorizes a new combined minimum security and parole facility.



Requires use of risk assessments to create pre-sentence reports and determine treatment recommendations.

Authorizes community corrections as a sanction for technical probation violations.

Requires supervision plans for inmates that are based on risk assessments.



Permits electronic monitoring sentence as an alternative to jail. Establishes a pretrial veterans court program.

Authorizes counties to establish veterans court programs.


Permits suspension, rather than forfeiture, of good time for a violation of prison rules. Grants nonviolent inmates awaiting transfer to a state correctional facility earned time for manual labor. Establishes a comprehensive reentry plan that includes intake assessments, prison programming and transitional programming upon release. Creates a Reentry Task Force to identify gaps in services and coordinate with local service providers. Provides inmates with identification upon release. Assists newly released parolees with temporary housing, food, hygiene and clothing needs.


Increases the minimum sentence for capital felonies and aggravated murder. Prohibits diversion sentences for domestic violence offenses.

Requires localities participating in the Drug Offender Reform Act to provide substance abuse screening, assessment, community-based supervision, and treatment for felony offenders.

Permits contracting with community colleges to provide post secondary education in correctional facilities.

Instructs the Department of Corrections to create a recidivism reduction plan.




Requires treatment plans for inmates with serious functional impairment be based on best practices. Prohibits closing a facility or reducing operations without submitting a plan and seeking approval from a joint oversight committee. Instructs the commissioner of corrections to identify opportunities for housing federal, state and local inmates; and consider building a new facility with ARRA funds.

Requires coordination with the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living to provide reentry services for inmates with serious functional impairment.



Creates a “behavorial” corrections program for certain nonviolent offenders that require a minimum term of intensive substance abuse treatment, after which the court can suspend the remainder of the sentence to incarceration and grant probation. Authorizes county drug treatment courts. Prohibits keeping an offender on supervised probation for nonpayment of fees. Creates a task force on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-risk offenders.


Requires a review of incarceration length for inmates subject to parole consideration versus inmates sentenced under the current sentencing guidelines and to identify those eligible for geriatric release. 


Increases monetary thresholds for crimes of malicious mischief; theft; unlawful issuance of a bank check; theft of rental, leased, lease-purchase or loaned property; possession of stolen property; and organized retail theft. Requires a risk/needs assessment only when considering a residential chemical dependency treatment sentence.

Permits earned time for pre-sentence community programs. No longer requires the Department of Corrections to supervise certain misdemeanants convicted of nonviolent, non-sex offenses. Establishes determinate lengths of post-prison community supervision based on conviction and/or sentence length. Requires a plan for using evidence-based practices in community supervision. Implements a new risk assessment instrument.

Instructs a work group to recommend policies related to inmates with developmental disabilities and develop a screening tool to identify inmates with disabilities at intake.

Expands eligibility for medical release, tracks the number of releases, the costs incurred, and any cost savings. Implements a new risk assessment instrument and amends earned time eligibility based on the new tool. Permits inmates without approved release plans to be transferred to partial confinement or be provided with rental assistance; requires the Department of Corrections to provide transitional support services.

West Virginia


Authorizes local drug courts with oversight by the Supreme Court of Appeals and local advisory committees. Creates a pretrial release pilot program for defendants charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies. Prohibits probation officers from collecting money or posting bond for probationers.


Creates good time for jail inmates for successful program completion.



Permits modification or discharge from probation and discharge from extended supervision after serving a minimum term. Instructs the Department of Corrections to establish community services aligned with the goal of reducing recidivism.

Expands the earned release program to include inmates with treatment needs not necessarily related to substance abuse.

Creates “positive adjustment” time for abiding by prison rules and performing assigned duties. Creates a risk reduction sentence that reduces the sentence length upon completion of prison programming and treatment. Expands eligibility for medical parole. Establishes the Earned Release Review Commission to replace the Parole Commission. Establishes the Council on Offender Reentry to coordinate and improve reentry services, to identify federal grant opportunities, and to coordinate with various agencies to maximize use of services.



Creates the Court-Supervised Treatment Program to replace the Drug Court Program.



(N/A) = Not Applicable—2009 enacted legislation is not applicable to this report. 

This reports on legislation enacted Jan. 1, 2009 – Dec. 31, 2009, related to state sentencing and corrections laws. Policy information is based on NCSL’s Criminal Justice Program enactment research, powered by Statenet. See Session Law and Bill Citations for Significant State Sentencing and Corrections Legislation in 2009  for corresponding session law and bill citations.

For information on sentencing and corrections enacted legislation from other years; see State Sentencing and Corrections Legislation in 2010 and  Significant Sentencing and Corrections Legislation in 2007 and 2008.

For further information on this topic, contact Alison Lawrence, (303) 364-7700 or