03.26.15

Report: Prison Reforms Reduce Racial Disparities in Corrections System

Washington, DC – Today the Council of State Governments released a report on the changing racial composition of prison populations in three states that have implemented reforms to their corrections systems using the Justice Reinvestment approach.  The report shows that changes such as improving access to substance use treatment for prisoners, implementing recidivism-reduction programs and incentivizing prisoner participation, and developing risk-assessment tools to identify the best ways to help prisoners prepare for re-entering society can reduce racial disparities in prison populations.

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the leading champion in the Senate of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and the author, with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) of the CORRECTIONS Act, which would build on many of these proven state-based strategies by applying them to the federal prison system, released the following statement regarding the report:

“Over and over again, we have seen proof at the state level that it is possible to cut prison costs while making the public safer by implementing programs to help inmates successfully transition back into society,” said Whitehouse.  “This report shows that those same strategies can also reduce racial disparities in prison populations – an important goal in any prison reform effort.  I hope this report will generate even more momentum for our ongoing bipartisan effort to reform our prison and sentencing systems.”

The Justice Reinvestment program provides grants to states to enable them to implement data-driven criminal justice reforms that cut corrections costs while better protecting the public.  To date, over half the states have used the Justice Reinvestment approach, saving billions of dollars in the process.  Senator Whitehouse has worked with Senator Cornyn and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to support the Justice Reinvestment program, introducing related legislation in 2010 and leading efforts in the Senate to increase Justice Reinvestment funding.  Rhode Island was one of the first states to employ the Justice Reinvestment approach, implementing a package of reforms in 2008 that were followed by a 9 percent decline in the state’s prison population and a 7 percent decline in the state’s crime rate.

The CORRECTIONS Act would improve public safety and save taxpayer money by requiring prisoners to participate in recidivism reduction programs and allowing certain eligible prisoners to earn up to 25 percent of their sentence in prerelease custody for successful completion of these programs.  The programs, which can include things like vocational training and substance abuse treatment, have been proven to help former prisoners successfully re-acclimate to society upon release and to reduce the risk that they will commit future crimes.

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