City and county governments are grappling with burgeoning criminal justice populations, with an increase of over 30 percent in the number of people in jail or under criminal justice supervision in the past 10 years alone (Glaze, Minton, and West 2009). The escalation in these local criminal justice populations has been accompanied by a dramatic spike in county correctional costs -- an 80 percent increase in the last decade (Gifford and Lindgren 2000; Perry 2008). These costs create difficult choices for public officials, many of whom are forced to freeze or reduce costs for education and human services in order to balance their budgets.
While local criminal justice costs are driven in large part by the expense of incarcerating an increasing volume of people in county jails, very few jurisdictions have been successful in reducing their jail populations. On average, county jail populations increased by 33 percent in the past decade, outpacing the 24 percent increase in state prison populations and the 17 percent increase in probation and parole populations during the same time period (Glaze et al. 2009). This jail population growth can divert funds from programs and social services aimed at preventing people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.
What can county and city managers do to manage these costs without compromising public safety? They can engage in justice reinvestment. Justice reinvestment can help prioritize jail space for those who pose the greatest risk to public safety while also informing which individuals would be better off in the community, where services and treatment may be more readily available. Justice reinvestment can also help achieve tangible cost savings through expediting the case processing of those awaiting trial or disposition; revising revocation policies; creating more alternatives to jail for unsentenced populations; and preventing repeat residents of the jail from returning by increasing reentry preparation and services before and after their release.
To provide instruction for local leaders aiming to improve cost-efficiency in their criminal justice systems, this guidebook describes the steps involved in the justice reinvestment process, the challenges that may be encountered, and examples of how those challenges can be overcome. While the intended audience is local county and city managers and their criminal justice leaders, this document is designed to be accessible to a wide audience of local stakeholders (readers who are new to the criminal justice field can refer to the glossary of terms in Appendix A).
In this time of shrinking budgets and increasing demands on the local criminal justice system, this guidebook is intended to be timely and instructive. Overall, it aims to help jurisdictions create more efficient systems that manage and allocate scarce resources cost-effectively, generating savings that can be reinvested in more prevention-oriented strategies.