Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Justice Reinvestment

I think I first heard this phrase used by Tony Fabelo at the CSG Justice Center, in reference to their work which eventually led to a national summit in January 2010, and which is summarized as "a data-driven strategy to reduce spending on corrections, increase public safety, and improve conditions in the neighborhoods to which most people released from prison return."  Their work has been with state governments in places like Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and Nevada.

My friend and former colleague Nancy LaVigne, at the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center, has just launched their website to connect justice reinvestment to the local level of government (JRLL).
The JRLL model includes five obvious but critical elements that any local justice initiative should follow:
  1. Collect and analyze relevant criminal justice data: aids stakeholders in targeting interventions based on risks to public safety.
  2. Develop and implement alternative strategies: enables the county to identify interventions that address the key drivers of criminal justice costs.
  3. Document costs and potential savings: clarifies the financial impact of the criminal justice population on various agencies' budgets.
  4. Reinvest in the community and the jail: measures the impact of activities to increase savings and improve public safety.
  5. Assess the impact of reinvestment strategies: reinvestment can be focused on prevention strategies in the jail or specific neighborhoods.
I have a couple of ideas for a new species of "justice reinvestment" in Texas. The beginning point is to identify sustainable funding strategies to support the growth and performance management of problem-solving courts: drug courts, family drug courts, veterans courts, mental health courts, prostitution courts, etc.  Currently the governor's Criminal Justice Division spends about $7.3 million on this program, but recent requests for grants for new courts exceeded $10 million. The first idea is to look at reinvesting some or all of the funding that currently supports any excess capacity in the SAFP (Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility) regime.

Second, look for strategies to promote larger jurisdictions establishing problem-solving courts by persuading civil judges to transition to this new calling.  It is my belief that most or all urban areas in Texas have more judges than they need for the civil caseload, and often too few judges in the criminal or family realms.  As I noted back in January, the workload overall is only 20% civil, so if 30% of a locality's judges do civil cases, there is probably a mismatch of judicial resources.

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