Criminal Justice, Corrections, and Sentencing Reform

NGA’s Work with Governors 

Many states have enacted and implemented some type of criminal justice reform, and justice system improvements.

Each year, through NGA’s annual Institute for State Criminal Justice and Public Safety Executives, and other convenings, resources, and technical assistance the NGA Center continues to support governors in their efforts to make their criminal justice systems smarter, fairer, and more cost effective.

System-wide Planning and Reforms

Since 2017, NGA in partnership with the National Criminal Justice Association Center for Justice Planning, assisted Delaware, Vermont, Illinois, Arizona and Oregon through the National Criminal Justice Reform Project with planning and implementation of data-driven, evidence-based reform within one or more of the following areas: pretrial reform, re-entry and offender recidivism, mental health and substance abuse, reducing incarceration and information sharing and integration of evidence-based practices across the justice system.

Supporting New State Leaders in Improving Criminal Justice Systems

In 2019, 22 new governors took office amid tremendous bipartisan momentum to improve state criminal justice systems across the country. Many of them outlined ambitious goals to facilitate successful reentry from prison and help reduce recidivism, lower costs, and foster safe communities. Recognizing governors must tackle many competing priorities, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Correctional Leaders Association, and the National Criminal Justice Association partnered to conduct intensive, on-site assessments of four states’ criminal justice systems—Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, and Wisconsin—and worked collaboratively with each governor’s office to help develop and support the governors’ visions to achieve criminal justice reform.


In June 2019, NGA Center convened nine states in Cleveland, Ohio, and New Orleans, Louisiana, for regional workshops to share best practices for improving medication assisted treatment (MAT) inside correctional settings and upon reentry back into communities. These multi-state workshops brought together corrections, public health, Medicaid and reentry leaders from executive branches and key state partners to discuss how to improve access to MAT services, foster care coordination and reentry processes, and identify potential models for implementation. Representatives 9 states participated in the workshops and state officials from eight other states served as faculty experts.

In July 2010, the NGA Center, in cooperation with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and the Pew Center on the States, hosted the Cross Governmental Sentencing and Corrections Policy Forum. During the forum, nine state teams comprised of members from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government convened to identify and evaluate strategies to improve state sentencing and corrections policies to reduce corrections costs and improve sentencing outcomes, while maintaining public safety.

In May 2008, the NGA Center hosted the 2008 Executive Policy Retreat on Sentencing and Corrections with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts. During the retreat, 14 teams of senior-level state policymakers were educated on emerging research and promising practices to better manage corrections populations and reduce expenditures while continuing to promote public safety.

Parole, Probation, and Community Corrections

Since 2015, the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Center for Best Practices, in partnership with the National Parole Resource Center (NPRC), worked with 10 states (Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wyoming) to receive technical assistance to address paroling strategies over the last three years to strengthen state paroling policies and practice through a learning collaborative.

States participated in a learning collaborative that updated state executives about evidence-based practices and enhance relationships among key criminal justice stakeholders. The collaborative assisted the states in developing recommendations for supporting and strengthening parole decision-making, policies and practices as they explore opportunities for enhancing collaboration between governors’ offices and paroling authorities.

At the end of the collaborative period, state teams will have identified, developed and refined their recommendations for strengthening parole practices, and will then share these recommendations with their state governors. As governors are responsible for decisions regarding reentry, the findings from these collaborations could help determine the future for reentering individuals across these three states and serve as potential models nationwide.


In August 2007, NGA Center’s hosted the Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy to work with teams from five states with the goal of developing executive leadership and state policies around prisoner reentry. During this meeting, states learned about current research and practice related to prisoner reentry and also received feedback on their state action plans from peers from other states, researcher, representatives from key federal agencies, and other experts.

In 2003, the NGA Center supported Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Virginia during the Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy. During the intensive 18-month program, NGA helped state teams develop effective prisoner reentry strategies designed to reduce costly recidivism rates by improving pre-and post-release services.

State and Federal Collaboration

Coalition Letter from NGA and other organizations to Congress requesting full funding for the First Step Act in the fiscal year 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill. (May 2019)

Letter to Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate leadership from Mississippi Governor Bryant and Minnesota Governor Dayton on governors priorities for criminal justice and sentencing reform in Congress. (Sept. 2018)

Letter from the National Governors Association to congressional leadership supporting passage of criminal-justice reform legislation. (Dec. 2018)

Letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner to support state and local crime fighting programs by restoring essential funding for Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne/JAG) for fiscal year (FY) 2008.

Letter to Senate Appropriations Chairman and Ranking member to express support of state and local crime fighting programs, and ask you to restore funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement block grant program (Byrne), the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), and the Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant program (JAIBG). (2005)