What is an Interstate Compact?

Jason C. Chavis
Jason C. Chavis
Interstate compacts are limited by the Constitution.
Interstate compacts are limited by the Constitution.

An interstate compact is a documented agreement between various individual states within the United States. These agreements can be instituted by two or more governments. The goal of an interstate compact is to manage or supplement uniform factors or features that the states have in common. Basically they are put into place in areas which it is in the best interest of the parties to control or promote certain aspects of the economy or infrastructure.

While many states create agreements with each other, there is a federal mandate that limits the cooperation between the governments. According to Article One, Section 10 of the US Constitution, “no state shall enter into an agreement or compact with another state.” This is presumed by the judiciary to be an effort to centralize power with the federal government. It also helped stave off the American Civil War for decades after the establishment of the country. To circumvent this mandate, all interstate compacts must receive approval from the US Congress.

The concept of an interstate compact is often criticized by different parties due to its creation of new government agencies. When an interstate compact is created, it needs to be funded and administered by governmental bodies in order to ensure that it is operating properly. Those who don't support a larger government often speak out against these provisions. Despite this fact, much of the constituency benefits from these provisions.

The process of establishing an interstate compact first begins with an identification of common interests or problems between two or more states. Generally, representatives from the governments work together to determine the best way to coordinate efforts and find a way to fund the necessary agencies that are to be established. The agreement is drafted and ratified by the various legislative and executive bodies within the states themselves. Finally, the agreement is sent to Congress, often via the representatives from the states. Usually, very little debate is held regarding an interstate compact and it passes by vote on the floors of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Examples of interstate compacts can be found all over the country. There are 22 different agreements in operation in the US. Major agreements include the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission between Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, which controls the fishing industry in the region and the Connecticut River Valley Flood Control Commission between New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts, which manages flood conditions along the river.

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Discussion Comments


I have a question. I live in Missouri and I have a case in Illinois. I was in the middle of a custody battle with the father when the father got busted with a meth lab. I was totally overlooked in the whole process and the state of Illinois took custody of my son.

Illinois is saying that I have to move back to Illinois to get my son. Would it be possible to get an interstate compact and if so, how hard would this process be for me?


What is an ICPC interstate compact and what does it have to do with adoption? How would a family member go about adopting another family members child from another state should the child's birth parent pass away?

I only ask because we were asked to take care of my wife's sister's children in the event that she dies. She has liver problems and the outlook is iffy. How long would it take to get her children out here? Would they need to stay in foster care until all of the legal documents have been filed? We have never been asked to be god parents before, let alone in a situation where our duty as god parents is a possibility.


@Babalaas- Whether or not your brother will be able to move will likely depend on the criteria each accepting state requires to accept an offender. Some states will not allow an offender to move there unless they can essentially "offer something to society" or not cause undue hardship upon the state. Offenders who are working professionals, moving closer to family (support network), or are seen to reduce their risk of recidivism by moving are more likely to be accepted.

Many states will not accept repeat offenders. Some states will not accept interstate compact offenders who have committed certain crimes. Some states may not accept interstate compact offenders simply because they already have too many people on their probation and parole roles.

Your brother will not need to hire a lawyer in most cases. The process can be completed through the state's department of corrections since they are the department that oversees the ICOTS system. Either way, moving closer to family is a good reason to approve such an agreement.


@baballas- ICOTS is an acronym that stands for the Interstate Compact Offender Tracking System. ICOTS is a database that many states use to track their probationers and parolees that have moved to another state. Most states limit the access of this database to people who are part of the interstate probation team and have direct business viewing the site. It allows for the communication of a person’s probation terms, progression of probation, a list of violations if any exist, and sharing of information pertaining to the closure of an offender’s case.

Think of it this way, when someone moves while they are under state supervision, they must report regularly to their probation officer. The ICOTS system allows directed supervision to take place in a state where the offender may have no record. The ICOTS system also allows for the timely and secure transmission of information to interested parties in other states, should the courts decide to expunge an ex-offenders record.

These interstate compact agreements work to ensure that the agreements of a person’s conviction are upheld in another state. For example, some states may expunge records while others may not. An interstate compact agreement ensures that once the offender serves his or her sentence, the original court agreement is upheld.


I have a question involving the criminal justice system and interstate compact agreements. What is the ICOTS interstate compact system, and how does it work?

My brother wants to move to my state to try to re-establish himself. He is more than halfway through an adult probation he was sentenced to for drug possession. He said that getting here could be difficult because he would need to secure an ICOT agreement, and my state would need to accept his wishes to move.

How would he go about this? Does he need to hire a lawyer? I miss my brother, and I am some of his only familial support. He went through a messy divorce and went into a depressed state; using drugs that led to his arrest. I would like to have him move across country to live with me until he can get things sorted out and move on.

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    • Interstate compacts are limited by the Constitution.
      Interstate compacts are limited by the Constitution.