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Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Background on Improving Criminal Justice and Reducing Recidivism Through Justice Reinvestment

BJA launched the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in 2006. Through a consortium of technical and policy experts, JRI provides policymakers with resources and tools to increase public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs, resulting in a more effective justice system.

In recent years, the Pew Center on the States (Pew), an independent nonprofit organization, and BJA have separately supported JR and similar approaches to corrections and sentencing issues. Going forward, Pew and BJA have developed a process for more closely aligning their efforts. States participating with Pew and/or BJA will be eligible for continuing and further support through both organizations. Although the funding and programmatic efforts of Pew and BJA remain independent, both organizations have agreed to coordinate efforts closely in support of states, counties and tribes and to leverage resources wherever possible.

A Fiscal Imperative
In the past 20 years, state and local spending on corrections has grown at a rate faster than nearly any other budget item. Despite increasing corrections expenditures, recidivism rates remain high, with half of all persons released from prison returning within three years.1 Further, every state has a handful of high-risk communities to which most ex-offenders return, which places significant financial burdens on already strapped local jurisdictions.

In recent decades, justice responses to crime relied substantially on incarceration strategies alone, resulting in exponential growth in:

  • Incarceration Rates. Approximately 2.4 million American adults are currently incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons and jails.2
  • Criminal Justice Spending for State, Local, and Tribal Governments. Local governments spend over $100 billion and state governments spend over $73 billion annually on the criminal justice system. This represents a 76 percent increase for local governments and a 69 percent increase for state governments in the past decade alone.3
  • Probation and Parole Rates. Approximately 5.1 million Americans are currently on probation or parole, an increase of nearly 300 percent since 1980.4

These expensive and unsustainable approaches also lead to jail and prison overcrowding, budget constraints within the justice system and local government, and overwhelmed community supervision agencies, programs, and service systems left to supervise high numbers of clients.

As a result, state, local, and tribal policymakers have been challenged to design policies that:

  • Manage corrections system growth.
  • Respond strategically to offender risks and needs based on sustainable, evidence-based approaches that do not jeopardize public safety and ensure offender accountability.
  • Coordinate existing resources and develop new approaches to promote successful offender reintegration.
  • Reinvest savings generated from reduced corrections spending into communities.

A Strategic and Data-Driven Process
Justice reinvestment helps policymakers reach their goals through a four-step approach:

  1. Analyze criminal justice trends to understand factors driving jail and prison population growth.
  2. Develop and implement policy options to generate savings and increase public safety.
  3. Quantify savings and reinvest in select, high-risk communities and other prevention-oriented strategies.
  4. Measure the impact of policy changes and reinvestment resources and enhance the accountability of criminal justice system actors and policies.

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1Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002, "Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994," Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=1134.
2Bureau of Justice Statistics, nd, "Total correctional population," Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice,
http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=11.
3Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000, "Percent distribution of expenditure for the justice system by level of government, fiscal year 1996," Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice; Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008, "Percent distribution of expenditure for the justice system by level of government, fiscal year 2006," Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=286.
4Crary, David, 2009, "States Urged to Improve Probation, Parole Programs," Associated Press, Pew Center on the States News Room, www.pewcenteronthestates.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=49740; Bureau of Justice Statistics, nd, Probation and Parole in the United States, 2008, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=1764.