The National Governor’s Association (NGA) recently released an analysis of state-level sentencing and corrections reforms. Corrections budgets were targeted for cuts in 40 states between 2009 and 2010, and the NGA points out that operational cuts were dwarfed in their impact by the cuts made possible by closing unneeded prisons. (For example, Michigan has closed 19 facilities in the last six years—saving over $300 million.)

But in order to close prison facilities, states first must reduce prison populations—and this can be accomplished by sending fewer people to prison (sentencing reform), re-sending fewer people to prison (recidivism reduction), and decreasing the length of time in prison (parole and probation reform).

The NGA highlights some of the more popular reform initiatives in the states, such as alternatives to incarceration, amending mandatory minimums, and rewarding the use of evidence-based treatments.

These state-level reforms are clearly a step in the right direction in terms of state budgets and public safety.  Furthermore, in the macro sense, these initiatives permit states to learn from each other’s criminal justice reform efforts because the states, after all, are the laboratories of democracy. The NGA’s discussion of how Ohio, for example, used a bi-partisan inter-branch task force to achieve corrections reform, or how Maryland has put an emphasis on performance measures and implemented technology to track and report those measures—will give the states options and models for success as they undertake the weighty task of corrections reform.

Here is an at-a-glance summary of the reform initiatives highlighted by the NGA:

South Carolina

Reduced incarceration of nonviolent offenders and more closely supervised released inmates to reduce recidivism.

$241 million saved


Expanded good time and probation credits to avoid prison construction.

$1.2 billion saved


Diverted drug offenders into treatment.

$422 million saved


Graduated probation and parole sanctions; transition planning

32% drop in recidivism


Increased good time for sentences

$7,200 per offender saved

North Carolina

Swift probation violation responses, restructured monitoring

$290 million saved by 2017