States Focus on Reducing Recidivism to Improve Public Safety


Corrections leaders from all 50 states gathered last week in Washington for a conference on reducing recidivism. Organized by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and co-sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Pew Center on the States, the event highlighted how some states are improving public safety in an era of limited resources by focusing on reducing recidivism.

Corrections directors from Virginia, Oklahoma, Vermont, Kentucky, and Oregon are among those who shared success stories and strategies for facilitating prisoners’ re-entry into society and preventing new crimes.

Harold Clarke, Director of Corrections in Virginia, explained that fiscal realities are driving smarter public safety policies in his state: “The economy is causing us to take a closer look at how we’re spending taxpayer dollars, and we recognize that we can’t afford to keep building prisons as a short-term solution to public safety. What we’re after is lasting public safety. And the way to get there is to have effective reentry programs. Incapacitation by itself will not do it.”

Successful programs are evidence-based, say corrections leaders, and involve an array of state and local agencies to coordinate smart investments in substance abuse treatment, medical care, mental health services, job training programs, housing development, and other services needed by many people coming out of prison.

Oklahoma corrections director Justin Jones observed that the federal government has a role to play in coordinating nationwide informationa bout best practices, providing seed funding for innovative programs in the states, and “to promote science over politics. There is so much polarization around corrections. We need some mechanism to bring people together around best practices and effective correctional approaches, rather than having the debate dominated by sound bites about ‘tough on crime.'”