Last week, the Department of Justice announced it would be seeking to reduce and eventually end the practice of using privately operated prisons.  In a memo to the Bureau of Federal Prisons, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates explains that about a decade ago, the Bureau began contracting with privately operated correctional institutions to handle a fast increasing federal prison population. Now, however, the prison population has started to decline.

Over the past 20 years, violent crime* has decreased considerably – down 35 percent from 1995. The violent crime rate (number of violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants) fell precipitously over this period, from 684.5 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants to 365.5 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2014, there were about 1.2 million violent crimes nationwide; in 1995 there were 1.8 million, despite the fact that the U.S. population grew by approximately 21 percent over this period.  

Over the last 40 years, local jails have increasingly become de facto psychiatric treatment facilities for the millions of people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders who become involved with the local criminal justice system. Counties and states are at the breaking point, many without the resources or capacity to address this population’s mental health needs while ensuring an appropriate criminal justice response and protecting public safety. The national Stepping Up movement offers state and local governments a roadmap for navigating the complicated process of addressing this urgent issue.

On April 22, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order that restores the voting and civil rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons.  The order applies to people who have completed their sentence, including any supervised release, parole or probation requirements.  

Representatives from correctional systems in 12 states came together in early March to set strategies for and share experiences related to reducing recidivism in their states and across the country. Convened by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, or BJA, and The Council of State Governments Justice Center’s National Reentry Resource Center, the 2016 Statewide Recidivism Reduction, or SRR, Forum brought together grantees of the SRR program—one of the Second Chance Act grants offered by BJA, which challenges state correctional systems and their partners to reduce recidivism and serve as models for the rest of the country. BJA officials—including Deputy Director Kristen Mahoney, Associate Deputy Director Ruby Qazilbash and Policy Advisor Andre Bethea—were on hand to discuss best practices.

Following on the heels of an active December that saw Congress avoid a government shutdown, extend tax breaks for Americans and pass education reform, there is hope that President Obama and Congress will carry this unexpected span of bipartisanship into 2016. Although impossible to know with certainty which issues will be tackled, criminal justice reform could be on the list.  

Life in prison is hard—and it’s designed to be that way. But for the 70 million Americans with a criminal record living outside prison walls, life in the community also can be pretty tough. In addition to finding stable housing, reuniting with families and addressing substance abuse issues, individuals with criminal records often face serious barriers to finding a job.

Across the United States, 70 million adults are estimated to have some sort of criminal record. The vast majority of adults who are incarcerated return to the community, and many face multiple barriers to successful reentry, including finding and maintaining employment. There are two primary reasons individuals returning home from prison or jail struggle to find and keep a job: many people have minimal work experience and limited job skills; and policy and legislative barriers, coupled with employer reluctance to hire adults with criminal records, limit employment opportunities, even when they are qualified for the job or have been crime free for an extended period of time.

Each year, more than 10 million adults are released from jail or prison. One in 31 adults is under correctional supervision on any given day in the U.S.; it is estimated that 70 million adults have a criminal record. Across the political spectrum, people agree that efforts to help these individuals stay out of prison or jail and to succeed in the community must include a strategy focused on assisting them to get and maintain a job. As part of the CSG State Pathways to Prosperity initiative, the CSG Justice Center has been working with local and state governments, as well as leaders in the business community, to test and evaluate approaches that work to reduce recidivism and improve employment outcomes. This session reviewed what has been learned to date and highlight the perspectives of state leaders who are tackling this challenge.

On Nov. 24, with two weeks left in his second and final term, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order that automatically restored the right to vote and hold public office to approximately 140,000 nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences.