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Responding to Fiscal Challenges in State Correctional Systems: A National Study of Prison Closings and Alternative Strategies

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Awardee County
Los Angeles
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2011, $999,952)

Because of a recent severe economic downturn, states have been forced to curtail spending, including correctional spending. Correctional responses being contemplated or implemented by states include institutional changes, for example, closing prisons and reducing staff, "back-end" strategies, for example, reductions in sentence lengths though earned credits or good time, and "front-end" strategies, for example, changing felonies to misdemeanors in an attempt to reduce prison admissions. States are grappling with which options to use, but often without enough information to make informed decisions in terms of expected impacts, costs, and benefits.

The proposed research will address the recent financial situation of states with regard to corrections; tradeoffs being made in funding other governmental and social services; initiatives and policy changes instituted; why these strategies have been selected; challenges in implementing change; whether strategies are consistent with best practices for ensuring public safety and offender rehabilitation; estimated short term impact on the numbers of incarcerated offenders, institutional performance and other measures, public safety, and correctional expenditures; and how to measure the long term impact on crime, including costs and benefits.

These issues will be addressed through a survey of the 50 state correctional administrators to determine their responses to fiscal stress, including size and characteristics of the prison population, prison crowding, prison expenditures, institutional safety and staff morale, and public safety and other justice spending. Data will be collected from web-based sources and on each state's degree of fiscal stress over the past five years and the unique contribution of corrections to that stress. Public domain data for this analysis will be taken from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) Deaths in Custody Reporting Program, the BJS National Corrections Reporting Program, and the Census Bureau Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Site visits will be conducted at ten correctional agencies and to three or four prisons in each of the ten jurisdictions to identify the full set of strategies that correctional agencies use to respond to fiscal pressures and evaluate their immediate impact on facility operations.

Data from all these sources will allow the use of techniques to assign a ranking (from poor to excellent) for each strategy's potential for maintaining public safety. Quantitative econometric analyses will be used to examine the short-term impacts of policy changes to address budget shortfalls, and develop a protocol for long-term and cost-benefit analysis.

The study will document the extent to which different institutional, "back-end," and "front-end" strategies are being tried by states across the country. Findings will be published in a final report that will provide a comprehensive overview of the project and a detailed description of the project design, data, and methods; a full presentation of scientific findings; and a thorough discussion of the implications of the project findings for criminal justice practice and policy in the United States.

Date Created: September 11, 2011