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Justice Reinvestment Initiative Shows Promising Results

67 WexlerPhoto2008-12-05
I have worked in the field of addictions with a primary focus on treatment, criminal justice and corrections for more than 40 years. As Spectrum’s Senior Research Advisor, I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss issues and current trends that have wide-spread relevance. It’s an exciting time at Spectrum as the organization continually refines its programming and seeks to build upon its national presence including program operations throughout Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington State.

My first blog involves criminal justice reform which has become a major interest of mine in recent years.   While working as the editor on a special issue of the Prison Journal (2011) designed to inform and support Congressional criminal justice reform efforts, I reviewed an exciting and innovative multi-state project that incorporates proven recidivism reduction policies and provides reinvestment funds for programming targeted to high crime neighborhoods.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) is a cutting-edge approach based upon accumulated research and practical knowledge. The JRI is coordinated by the Council of State Governors Justice Center and includes essential system improvement elements that have produced early positive results in a number of states.   The JRI is a large ongoing effort co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. Technical assistance and funding is provided to states and localities for “data driven” correctional reform. Data is collected and analyzed to identify recidivism factors and implement changes that reduce prison populations and associated costs; and achieve improved fiscal and public safety outcomes that are measured and reported to policy makers and the general public. Perhaps one of the most innovative aspects of the program is that money saved by reduced costs related to recidivism reduction is reinvested back into the communities from which most of the offenders originate.

JRI incorporates the following recidivism reduction approaches which have all received considerable empirical support: 1) focus on high risk offenders using effective risk assessment instrumentation; 2) implementation of evidence-based programs that have shown recidivism reductions of ten to twenty percent; and, 3) effective community supervision policies and practices that focus on swift and certain sanctions proportionate to violations and the violator.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance engages key stakeholders in states with a two-phase process of developing policy proposals based on criminal justice data followed by policy implementation. A number of highly promising state and local studies are emerging that report early impacts on prison population and recidivism reduction in fourteen states (

This initiative is not only notable for its empirically-based approach and consensus building but the reinvestment of funds saved through reductions in prison population expenses in public safety efforts. Funds are reinvested using “place–based” strategies that focus on improving resources and services coordination in high crime areas where most offenders originate and then return. During times of fiscal austerity, an approach that utilizes savings from criminal justice reform to reduce incarceration costs is especially welcome and appealing to policymakers and the public.

Future blogs will continue to report on and discuss criminal justice reforms and innovative rehabilitation efforts especially related to “what works” in prison and community-based substance abuse treatment. Spectrum’s innovative work as a national leader in evidence-based treatment will also be highlighted.

Readers are invited to send in reactions and questions to me at I also welcome suggestions for future blog topics.

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