In response to the “tough on crime” era, some states this year continued a national trend to get “smart on crime” instead.For the trend toward “smart on crime” legislative responses, see Rebecca Silber, Ram Subramanian, and Maia Spotts, Justice in Review: New Trends in State Sentencing and Corrections 2014-2015 (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2016).
Legislators in Missouri, faced with overcrowded prisons—largely a result of admissions for supervision violations, many of them technical violations—requested support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Pew Charitable Trusts to design a solution.CSG Justice Center, Council of State Governments, “Missouri.”
With assistance from the Council of State Governments (CSG), they focused on Justice Reinvestment: a CSG initiative that relies on a data-driven approach to improve public safety, reduce corrections and criminal justice spending, and reinvest those savings in strategies to decrease crime and reduce recidivism.CSG Justice Center, Council of State Governments, “Justice Reinvestment,”
The resulting state legislation, HB 1355, was signed into law in June.Missouri HB 1355 (2018), § 50 et seq.
Among other provisions, the bill establishes a community behavioral health program and requires risk and needs assessments to determine which types of supervision and services are appropriate for each person, mandating that supervision be as minimal and noninvasive as possible.Missouri HB 1355 (2018), § 50 et seq.
Missouri joins Arkansas, Georgia, Montana, North Dakota, and Rhode Island, all of which enacted justice reinvestment legislation in 2017 that came into effect this year.Arkansas Act 423 (2017); Georgia SB 174 (2017); Montana SB 59, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, Senate Resolution 3, and House Bill 133, (2017); North Dakota SB 2015 (2017), and North Dakota HB 1041 (2017). For a comprehensive list of Rhode Island’s Justice Reinvestment package of legislation, see CSG Justice Center, “Rhode Island Governor Signs Bills to Increase Public Safety, Promote Rehabilitation and Treatment,” October 12, 2017. Georgia is already seeing results from its initiatives: it moved 17,570 active felony probation cases to unsupervised status in 2017 and is continuing to review cases to see who might be eligible for reclassification.CSG Justice Center, “Changes to Georgia’s Probation System Yield Positive Early Results,” April 18, 2018. An April report of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform showed that probation officer caseloads in the state have dropped by an average of 40 people.Michael Boggs and Carey Miller, Report of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, (Atlanta, GA: Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, 2018), 6-8.
Meanwhile, North Dakota has experienced an 8.4 percent drop in prison admissions for drug and alcohol offenses since reforms were instituted and the overall prison population is expected to be 20 percent less in 2022 than it would have been without reform.John Hageman, “Reforms Expected to Help Slow Prison Growth in North Dakota, Report Says,” Grand Forks Herald, August 23, 2018. And, as part of the Arkansas justice reinvestment initiatives, the state established the nation’s first statewide network of “crisis stabilization units”—specialized facilities that work in coordination with law enforcement officials trained in crisis intervention to provide first-line help that avoids incarceration for people in mental health crises.Times Record staff, “Governor Highlights Sebastian County CSU,” Times Record, August 20, 2018.
Ohio, too, is focusing on community-centered therapeutic support instead of incarceration. SB 66, which passed in June, permits judges to consider alternatives to incarceration such as halfway houses or outpatient treatment facilities when sentencing people convicted of some nonviolent felony offenses.Ohio SB 66 (2018). Although the initial costs of this kind of diversion strategy are higher than incarceration, the evidence from states where people receive “sentences” to such programs shows that rehabilitative approaches to sentencing result in long-term positive outcomes and cost savings.Steve Brown, “Ohio Bill Would Send Many Drug Offenders to 'Community Control' Instead of Prison,” WOSU, June 28, 2018.
But while Ohio legislators pushed reform, Ohio voters rejected Issue 1 in November.Udi Ofer, “The 2018 Midterm Elections Were a Big Win for Criminal Justice Reform Ballot Initiatives,” ACLU, November 7, 2018. The initiative, if passed, would have reduced sentences for incarcerated people who participated in rehabilitative or educational programming during their incarceration, downgraded some drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, prohibited jail time for some drug offenses unless a person has been convicted three times in 24 months, and provided non-incarceration options for technical probation violations.Ohio Secretary of State, “Statewide Issue 1.” Opponents argued that the measure would make the state a more attractive location for drug trafficking and claimed that unless people with addictions face the threat of incarceration, they have little incentive to get treatment. Jim Siegel, “DeWine Says Issue 1 Impact ‘Devastating,’ Cordray Calls It Smart Policy,” Columbus Dispatch, September 11, 2018.