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Slashed Budgets force Changes in Corrections Policy and the Corrections Market

Over the past few decades "lock em up and throw away the key" was the standard mentality that pervaded corrections policymaking. Today, in the wake of the economic downturn, legislators nationwide are scrambling to find that key. Policies such as mandatory minimums, three strikes laws and reducing the availability of early parole caused prison populations to swell, and this policy seemed to work out for everyone (expect those who were incarcerated). Voters were content that their representatives were "tough on crime"; politicians were able to bring jobs to rural areas by building bigger prisons and vendors benefited from the increased revenue the prison contracts bought. This era came to an end when the recession forced politicians to rethink their fiscal priorities, and the level of corrections spending was deemed unsustainable.

I blogged on this topic in relation to California this summer, and decided to revisit it after reading about the increasing number of states and localities seeking out methods to decrease the cost of corrections. It depends upon whose numbers you trust, but a year of incarceration costs anywhere from $25,000 to $45,000 per individual. Many (but not all) legislators and governors have taken the stance that some of the offenders who are locked up in their states do not pose enough of a threat to society to justify spending that much money. They very well may be correct, but making that determination is not the purpose of this blog.

Regardless of what your opinion on this issue may be, it is evident that the landscape of corrections policy making is shifting towards alternative forms of sentencing, and these changes will affect the vendors who do business in the corrections marketplace.

The following are some new measures that states and localities are considering:

  • Establishing separate courts for non-violent offenders
  • Increasing sentences of probation instead of jail time
  • Allowing early parole of certain inmates who meet behavioral requirements
  • Avoidance of jail time for minor parole violations
  • Ending mandatory minimums for drug possession

When I speak with the decision makers within correctional organizations the refrain that I hear is no purchase will be made unless the product provides tangible risk avoidance and/or cost savings. Vendors would be wise to provide answers to the questions corrections officials are considering, and to do so before RFIs and RFPs hit the street. Questions such as: will installing a new surveillance system decrease the number of officers needed to maintain order in the county jail? With more individuals being placed on parole, the caseloads of parole of officers will increase; can case management software streamline their workload and allow them to effectively supervise more individuals? Would tablet PC's untie probation and parole officers them their desks and allow them to visit more individuals in a single day? Does GPS monitoring of paroles decrease the likelihood that they will violate the conditions of their release? These are just a handful of questions that corrections officials are considering at this time.

Providing answers to these types of questions will by no means guarantee a sole source contract, but it will allow vendors to showcase their skills and establish a working relationship with the agency or department. This topic will definitely continue to be the subject of debate in the coming year.

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
Great blog. As a case management software provider for courts, probation and parole, I love to see productive technology being cited as a mechanism to manage increased workload with reduced staff. Other key initiatives include standards based integration initiatives between criminal justice stakeholders.
# Posted By Frank A. Felice | 2/26/11 1:41 PM