Ongoing state budget deficits have placed the centerpiece of U.S. penal policy—incarceration—under intense scrutiny. Although crime rates have been on the decline since 1992, prison populations and spending have continued to grow—spurring state policymakers to question whether resources can be better used to enhance public safety. Taking heed of research which has shown that many offenders are dealt with more effectively in the community, many states have recently adopted policies to lower prison populations by moving people who are incarcerated to less-expensive supervision in the community. The goal is not only to reduce correctional costs but also improve public safety outcomes.
In this study, the Vera Institute of Justice, in partnership with the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance
Project, set out to determine whether—in light of recent state-level policy changes and the economic recession—there have been observable shifts from prisons to community corrections between 2006 and 2010 by examining changes in (1) prison populations; (2) prison spending; (3) community corrections populations; and (4) community corrections spending.