Clementine Jacoby
December 10, 2020

Announcing Spark

Today, Recidiviz is announcing a new project to support advocates and policymakers with impact analysis during the upcoming legislative session. Since January, the criminal justice reform landscape has shifted. We’re seeing:

  1. Significant, but temporary decarceration from COVID;
  2. State budget cuts creating downward pressure on corrections costs and incarceration; and
  3. Increased public support for racial and social justice.

Combined, these forces are creating a surge in reform momentum as we head into January legislative sessions. To take advantage of this incredibly unique moment, Recidiviz is launching a new project — called Spark — that is designed to help policymakers turn the current momentum into long-term progress.

“With a new wave of COVID-19 hitting, many states are looking for ways to reduce incarcerated populations safely. Budget cuts and public calls for racial justice are also forcing policymakers to take a hard look at the problem,” said Andrew Warren, Recidiviz’s Head of Product.

Over the next six months, the initiative will produce impact analyses for policy proposals under review in legislative sessions across the country, supporting groups from both sides of the aisle to focus the legislative debate around sound data and the full impact of proposed reforms.

Legislators, researchers, and advocates can request impact modeling here. Completed memos will be made available on the Spark website.

Spark Pilots

Over the past few months, we’ve piloted Spark in six states, creating impact memos requested by advocates on both sides of the aisle:

  • California: AB 3234 (expands elderly parole) — signed into law
  • California: AB 1950 (shorter cap on probation length) — signed into law
  • Virginia: SB 5033 (prosecutorial discretion to dispose of cases w/ deferred disposition) — signed into law
  • Virginia: HB 5148 (earned sentence credits) — signed into law
  • Michigan: SB 1050 (reducing felony probation caps) — passed Senate
  • Ohio: SB3 (reforms drug sentencing laws) — passed Senate

If implemented fully, and based on the model’s assumptions, over the next five years, these policies have the potential to:

  • Avert nearly $2.9 billion in expected costs;
  • Reduce the expected supervision population by over 90K people;
  • Reduce the incarcerated population by over 16K people; and
  • Give almost 63K life-years back to justice-involved individuals who avoid incarceration or supervision.

Memos are now in progress for policies in eleven additional states.

Spark Model

Spark is designed to equip advocates and policymakers with the data needed to motivate sound policy choices on a compressed timeline.

We use a probabilistic flow model to generate impact statements for reforms that span policing, pre-trial, sentencing, corrections, and supervision.

Our model forecasts both human and fiscal impact. We also include comparisons that identify when states are outliers among peers — in spending, length of stay, recidivism, or trajectory — to help partners identify the right approach to motivating change.

Spark has been used to simulate impact for supervision compliance credits, eliminating mandatory minimums, earned sentence credits, reductions in sentencing maximums, deferred disposition, and drug possession felony reclassification.

The Spark team can also model complex policy combinations without double-counting the individuals affected, determine “comparable” groups of states, and process public data of differing levels of fidelity.

Thank you to our advisors

The project was developed with input from criminal justice experts, including Adam Gelb (President, Council on Criminal Justice) and Bret Bucklen (Research Director, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections). Advisors to the project include Zoë Towns (Senior Criminal Justice Reform Director,, Celia Colón (Founder, Giving Other’s Dreams), Eddie Bocanegra (Director, READI Chicago), Khalil Cumberbatch (Fellow, Council on Criminal Justice), Steve Chanenson (Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law), and Ryan King (Director of Research and Policy, Justice Policy Institute).

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