New Pew Report: "High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms"

on Monday - July 16, 2012.

A new report by the Pew Center on the States reports that prison sentences have lengthened dramatically in the past 20 years, costing states millions of additional dollars. Yet, the report says, "For a substantial number of offenders, there is little or no evidence that keeping them locked up longer prevents additional crime."

According to the Pew research, in Pennsylvania, "The average offender released in 2009 served 32% more than the average offender released in 1990" at a total added cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers of $316.6 Million. Length of time served by PA's violent offenders grew 44% between 1990 - 2009, and length of time served by PA inmates charged with drug offenses also grew 44% in that same time period. As of 2009, Pennsylvania also had the second longest average length of time served in the US.

Click here for the full Pew report.

Click here for the PA Prison Time Served State Factsheet.

Key Legislative Changes in Sentencing Policy

Written by Scott J. Sheely on Sunday - March 13, 2011.

New York:  Recently, the Center on Sentencing and Corrections released a report entitled "Criminal Justice Trends: Key Legislative Changes in Sentencing Policy, 2001-2010".  This report reviews state sentencing policy from 2001 through 2010. The beginning and end of this period coincided with economic recessions and spikes in criminal justice reform legislation.  For a downloadable copy of the  report, click here.

The past decade marks a time of significant change in how states approach their criminal sentencing policies. The "tough on crime" political mantra that drove sentencing legislation 30 years ago has transformed into talk of being "smart on crime," with increasing reliance on research and data to drive and substantiate policy decisions. This willingness to adopt less punitive, more rational sentencing policies is driven, in part, by budget concerns that have emerged and remained prominent in recent years.

During this roughly 10-year period, three distinct themes in state sentencing legislation emerge:

  • States redefined and reclassified criminal offenses, often resulting in a reduction in offense severity and sentence length.
  • States strengthened alternatives to incarceration, with an emphasis on increasing investment in substance use treatment, specialty courts, and community supervision.
  • States took steps to reduce prison terms, from rolling back mandatory minimum sentences to enhancing mechanisms designed to accelerate sentence completion.

Under these overarching themes, the report identifies and discusses more than 55 pieces of state legislation that chronicle the decade's most important sentencing reform policies.

National Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections Now Available

Written by Scott J. Sheely on Saturday - October 02, 2010.

Washington: Recently, the Justice Mapping Center launched the National Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections-an online tool that shows a neighborhood-level view of where prison inmates, probationers, and parolees are from and where corrections spending is highest.  Click hereto connect with the Atlas which is online. The atlas serves as an invaluable tool for policymakers, the media, researchers, and members of the public looking for neighborhood-specific criminal justice data. Drilling down to single ZIP codes, users can learn the number of people in prison, the number released from prison each year, the number on probation or parole, what share of the state's total population this data represent, and the total dollar amount spent on corrections.

Reentry program planners will find the atlas useful in identifying the target population for their reentry initiatives. Also, Second Chance Act grantees can use the information to focus supervision and treatment resources on a specific geographic area.  The atlas highlights the concentration of incarceration rates in disadvantaged communities across the country. Corrections data are supplemented by data regarding income level, employment status, the number of single-parent households, and racial demographics for each of the thousands of jurisdictions spotlighted.

Specific findings include the following:

  • In New York City, neighborhoods that are home to 18 percent of the city's adult population account for more than 50 percent of prison admissions each year.
  • In Pennsylvania, taxpayers will spend more than $40 million to imprison residents of neighborhoods in a single ZIP code in Philadelphia, where 38 percent of households have incomes under $25,000.
  • In Austin, Texas, although neighborhoods in three of the city's forty-one ZIP codes are home to only 3.5 percent of the city's adult population, they grapple with more than 17 percent of people returning from prison each year.

Corrections departments from twenty-two states provided data to populate the atlas, which represents more than two years of research and planning. The project was supported by the Ford Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Open Society Institute.