But far more importantly, they did so without jeopardizing public safety. After the Rhode Island legislature enacted a variety of changes to its criminal justice system in 2008, the state’s prison population declined by 9 percent. But defying the conventional wisdom, the state’s crime rate decreased by 7 percent over the same period. In 2012, Rhode Island had fewer violent crimes, fewer property crimes, and fewer total crimes than in 2008. Ohio enacted its reforms only two years ago, but the results are already encouraging. In 2012, the state experienced 20,000 fewer crimes than in the previous year. The same story has been repeated across the country.
One of the key reforms states have pursued has focused on the link between substance abuse and crime. As a result, they expanded treatment programs and support for individuals in recovery, while offering alternatives to incarceration for some offenders. By spending just a little bit more on drug treatment, they have saved millions on the cost of incarceration, while helping inmates turn their lives around.
The lesson of these state successes is that by leveraging our criminal justice resources, we can help to stop the cycle of abuse that has turned many of our prison gates into revolving doors. That is a goal that deserves all of our support.