Reducing Incarceration Costs While Maintaining Public Safety: From Truth in Sentencing to Earned Release for Nonviolent Offenders

March 5, 2012

In FY 2002 the state of Arizona’s general fund investment for universities was 40 percent higher than its expenditures for the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC). During the decade that followed, nominal (current dollars) corrections spending rose 75 percent, while universities received nominal cuts of 11 percent. Consequently in FY2012 Arizona is now spending 40 percent more on corrections than on universities.

Thirty percent of those behind bars in Arizona are nonviolent offenders, who have never been convicted of a violent offense.2 Arizona is the only state in the country that applies “Truth in Sentencing” to nonviolent offenders. The statute mandates an offender serve at least 85 percent of their sentence behind bars. This policy is not cost effective. The Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) estimates that incorporating policies from other states could save the state between $30 and $73 million annually without hindering public safety depending on how structured. In addition, the state could save millions in accompanying prison costs, as such changes in policy would alleviate the need to build new state prisons or establish contracts with private prison providers.