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Impact & Influence: The Role of Local Jurisdictions in Managing Prison Population Size

NCJ Number
Elizabeth Davies
Date Published
October 2011
50 pages
This paper examines the role of local jurisdictions in State prison population management strategies, with attention to three policy "levers" in the criminal justice system that can most directly and immediately influence the number of people in prison.
One policy "lever" is sentencing. Judges and prosecutors, who may already be resistant to State changes to sentencing laws, exert a significant influence over sentencing decisions and will respond to these changes in local resources and capacity with their own policies and practices that may not align with State prison population-control efforts. When adequately resourced and planned, a policy that increases jail sentences rather than prison sentences, or community-based supervision and treatment can benefit public safety by helping offenders maintain ties to the community while addressing the underlying causes of criminality through treatment and other interventions. A second policy "lever" is inmate release and transfer. When adequately resourced and planned, prisoner release and transfer policies can benefit the jail by providing addition resources, can benefit the community by increasing the supervision of offenders, and can benefit the offender by connecting him/her to social supports and programs. A third policy "lever" is supervision violation response. In lieu of a revocation to prison in response to a supervision violation, many States have empowered probation and parole officers to use graduated sanctions that involve jail and community-based alternatives; some jurisdictions even receive incentives to reduce the number of individuals revoked for a parole or probation violation. The success of these strategies will depend on the capacity of the local jail, the resources available in the community, and the ability of local agencies to use those resources effectively in serving the highest risk, highest need offenders. This discussion of the role of local jurisdictions in State prison population management draws implications for future policy. 83 references