The fields of medicine, education, child welfare, mental health, probation and corrections have all been influenced by evidence-based practices. In essence, evidence-based practices are a set of guidelines—based upon rigorous research, evaluations and meta-analysis—that have proved effective in improving decision making and outcomes. In the medical world, for example, evidence-based practice refers to the “conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.”1 Only recently, however, has this approach spilled over into state courts in the form of providing decision-making tools for judges at the time of criminal sentencing.

The following compilation features published news stories during the week of Aug. 14-20 that highlight experts and/or research from The Council of State Governments. For more information about any of the experts or programs discussed, please contact CSG at (800) 800-1910 and you will be directed to the appropriate staff.  Members of the press should call (859) 244-8246.

Justice Center Releases New Brief on Enrolling People with SMI in Benefits

For people with serious mental illnesses (SMI) leaving jail and prison, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSI/SSDI) benefits can help ensure access to health care, housing, and other essential supports in the critical period immediately following release. The 2009 passage of healthcare reform legislation expands eligibility for Medicaid, making access to benefits even more important in the transition-to-community process. However, as many practitioners who work with these individuals know, benefits enrollment can be a complex and confusing process.

By Sue Bell Cobb, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice

How many times as a trial judge did I say to victims of crime, troubled youth or dysfunctional families, “I wish I could snap my fingers and make things better. I wish I could snap my fingers and undo all the harm that has caused you to be in court today. Unfortunately, I do not have that kind of power.”

Over a two-week period in June, a bipartisan group of state leaders from across the political spectrum in both North Carolina and Ohio came together in their respective states to enact comprehensive, data-driven legislation resulting from justice reinvestment initiatives. The bills in both states will increase public safety and reduce crime by making probation more effective, ensuring, for example, that those people who are most likely to reoffend are not left unsupervised. Both bills increase sentence lengths for certain high-risk property offenders or the most serious and violent offenders, while expanding sentencing options for nonviolent and first-time felony offenders.

Like most states, Alabama is currently facing the crisis of an overcrowded prison population and a recidivism rate that significantly threatens public safety and exacerbates already bleak state and local government budget shortfalls. Rather than continue to spend vast sums of money on a system that is clearly broken, Alabama is beginning the process of interbranch cooperation to implement effective reforms in the areas of sentencing and corrections at the state and local levels. A number of efforts are currently underway. For the sake of public safety and stark financial reality, Alabama must continue to modify its laws and carry out reforms to lower the costly burden of corrections and stop the revolving door of recidivism.

Despite numerous efforts at all levels of government, policymakers continue to struggle to identify and implement effective policies and programs that address the myriad issues related to sexual offenders and their crimes. Complex issues around sentencing, community supervision and re-entry of sexual offenders into the community remain critical challenges for state lawmakers.

In the 2007–2008 legislative biennium, state legislatures considered at least 1,500 bills related to sex offenders; at least 275 of those bills became law. Six states—Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Nevada and Texas—did not hold a regular legislative session in 2008.