Senior Director of State Fiscal Research
Corrections spending is absorbing a growing share of states’ budgets (see map), leaving less for education, health care, and other priorities. Some states have adopted criminal justice reforms that reduce costs while protecting public safety — offering effective addiction treatment to more people convicted of drug-related crimes instead of incarcerating them, for example, or imposing sanctions other than prison time for people who miss meetings with their parole officer.
More states might implement these reforms if lawmakers had a rigorous assessment of the likely impact on the state budget, such as expected cost savings. Unfortunately, many states do a poor job of producing this vital assessment (called a “fiscal note”), as a new report from CBPP and the ACLU explains.
We examined more than 600 significant bills on adult sentencing and corrections policy that 49 states have enacted in the past three years and found that:
A few states, including Texas and Washington, produce fiscal notes that meet high standards. Our analysis describes the best practices in this area. To achieve them, many states may need to invest more resources in their fiscal note process, for example by hiring more professional research staff and upgrading the data available to them. But investing in good fiscal notes is far less costly than enacting or maintaining criminal justice policies that require more prison spending.