Rising prison populations in two states are stimulating legislative attention to criminal justice reform—and neither state, fortunately, is resorting to merely letting inmates out early. Instead, both states are turning to proven, evidence-based reforms that decrease unnecessary incarceration for non-violent, low risk offenders, and reforms keyed to decreasing recidivism rates.
In Alabama, Republican State Senator Cam Ward pushed sentencing reform through the Alabama Senate which would focus on non-violent offenders charged with drug and alcohol offenses, shifting the focus for those offenders from long prison terms towards community based programming that would include substance abuse programming. Senator Ward pointed to the 50 percent decrease in costs for this type of treatment as evidence that prison bed space as well as taxpayer dollars would be more efficiently prioritized in Alabama with this legislation.
In South Dakota, however, experts are seeking to pass legislation next year that would deal with higher rates of recidivism as well as low-level, non-violent offenders. After hitting record high prison populations, the state started looking at why—and realized fewer inmates were working to become eligible for parole, and recent spikes in parole violations.
The state hopes to have legislation ready in 2013 that would deal with substance abuse issues—such as drug courts and DWI courts—to stem the flow of inmates into the system, tailored treatment for female offenders, and targeted intensive reentry services for younger ex-inmates to put more of them on the track to productive, law-abiding lives.