The blog of the Urban Institute
August 25, 2020

State Innovations through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Over the past decade, 36 states have engaged in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), taking a hard look at their criminal justice systems to find ways to improve outcomes for justice-involved people and their communities. JRI is a data-driven, consensus-based approach that provides a framework for states to examine their criminal justice systems and enact policy changes to improve public safety.

With technical assistance funded by the initiative, states analyze policies and practices driving their corrections and supervision populations and costs, develop and implement policy solutions to address these drivers, and measure the impact of those changes. States use anticipated or actualized savings from the JRI process to invest in strategies to reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

Key to JRI is a tailored approach reflecting each state’s challenges and strengths. No two states have implemented the same policy package, and each has experimented with different solutions.

As the oversight and assessment partner for the initiative, the Urban Institute tracks progress and outcomes in each JRI state through comprehensive assessment reports, in-depth assessments of specific state policies, and cross-state data snapshots used by policymakers and practitioners in states that have participated in JRI and in states considering engaging in justice reinvestment.

What states have accomplished through JRI

Urban’s JRI state summaries explain the challenges that prompted each state to engage in the initiative; highlight state accomplishments, innovations, and impacts; and capture trends in crime rates, recidivism, prison population size, and prison composition.

The summaries illustrate the array of challenges JRI helps address and the innovative strategies states use to design and implement policy solutions.

  • Hawaii (PDF) transformed its victim restitution system, developing an interagency database to more accurately collect, track, and distribute restitution payments and creating 22 new victim service positions to administer restitution funds more efficiently and effectively. As a result, Hawaii more than doubled restitution funds distributed to victims between 2013 and 2017.
  • Kansas (PDF) created a statewide system that integrated services for people on community supervision with behavioral health needs, hiring more than 40 service providers and coordinating its first behavioral health cross-training initiative in 2015 for supervision officers, treatment providers, and case managers. Between fiscal years 2014 and 2019, more than 5,000 people on probation across the state received behavioral health services.
  • Louisiana (PDF) reinvested its savings in recidivism reduction and victim services. The state recently improved programming for people in local jails; expanded and enhanced reentry services, including a transitional-housing pilot program; created a family justice center for survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, and stalking; and developed a statewide victim notification system.
  • Nebraska’s (PDF) Department of Correctional Services, Douglas County Corrections, and Office of Parole Administration collaborated to create a targeted transitional living program called Project Integrate, which offers housing to people who are returning to the community and are diagnosed with mental health or substance use disorders. As of October 2019, stakeholders had partnered with 10 providers to supply targeted housing and wraparound services, and 250 referrals had been made as of June 2019.
  • Although Rhode Island (PDF) did not initially pass the full JRI policy package in its legislature, it adopted probation changes through amending administrative court rules, hiring additional probation officers, and implementing evidence-based programming for people on probation. After enacting these changes in 2016, Rhode Island’s probation population declined 16 percent, and the legislature passed the remaining policy changes in 2017.

What can other states learn from JRI?

With 27 state summaries published and more to come, these stories provide an accessible look at JRI in practice and offer a snapshot of what states have accomplished through the initiative. They demonstrate the array of issues JRI can help states tackle—from limited community-based supports to behavioral health needs to victimization—and the many innovations states engaged in JRI have implemented to address these challenges.

Through JRI, states identify their unique challenges, design a tailored policy package to respond to them, and pilot and implement innovations that can transform their justice system. Fellow states and policymakers interested in justice reinvestment can learn from these stories as they think creatively about solutions to their own criminal justice system challenges.

Paul Brady Photography/Shutterstock

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