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November 25, 2013

New Brennan Center report urges "Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration"

REFORM_FUND_MASS_INCARC_v6_Page_01As reported in this press release, late last week The Brennan Center for Justice published a notable new report setting out a notable new proposal under the title "Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration." Here are highlights via the press release:

The proposal, dubbed by the authors “Success-Oriented Funding,” would recast the federal government’s $352 million Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program, by changing the measures used to determine success of its grants. It reflects a broader proposed shift in criminal justice programs at all levels of government. The proposal could be implemented without legislation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Funding what works and demanding success is critical, especially given the stakes in criminal justice policy. This report marks an important step toward implementing this funding approach in Washington and beyond,” said Peter Orszag, former Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, who wrote the proposal’s foreword.

The Center proposes major changes to the program’s “performance measures”, which are used to track a grant recipient’s use of the funds....

“What gets measured gets done,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center and one of the report’s authors. “Criminal justice funding should reflect what works. Too often, today, it is on autopilot. This proposal reflects an innovative new wave of law enforcement priorities that already have begun to transform policy. That is the way to keep streets safe, while reducing mass incarceration.”

Success-Oriented Funding would hold grant recipients accountable for what they do with the money they receive. By implementing direct links between funding and proven results, the government can ensure the criminal justice system is achieving goals while not increasing unintended social costs or widening the pipeline to prison.

The JAG program was launched nearly three decades ago at the height of the crime wave. As such, its performance measures center on questions about the quantity of arrests and prosecutions. Although funding levels are not based on rates of arrests and prosecutions, interviews with over 100 state and local officials and recipients found that many grant recipients interpreted the performance measure questions as indicating how they should focus their activity.

The Brennan Center’s new, more robust performance measures would better record how effective grant recipients are at reducing crime in their state or locality. For example, current volume-based performance measures record activity, such as total number of arrests, number of people charged with gun crimes, or number of cases prosecuted. The Brennan Center’s proposed new Success-Oriented performance measures record results, such as the increase or decrease in violent crime rate or what percentage of violent crime arrests resulted in convictions.

A Blue Ribbon Panel of criminal justice experts also provided guidance and comments on the measures, including leaders in law enforcement, prosecutors and public defenders, former government officials, and federal grant recipients. Participants included David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys; John Firman, research director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police; and Jerry Madden, a senior fellow at Right on Crime....

In addition to implementing new metrics, the Brennan Center recommends the Justice Department require grant recipients to submit reports. By mandating that grant recipients answer the questions, the Justice Department can align state and local practices with modern criminal justice priorities of reducing both crime and mass incarceration. The reported data should then be publicly available for further analysis.

The full Brennan Center report can be accessed at this link.

November 25, 2013 at 10:13 AM | Permalink


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Sadly, what gets measured gets manipulated. In CA, to lower the rate of recidivism they redefined the term. Also, they simply stopped violating people for parole violations to reduce incarceration. There was not less crime, just a lesser response.

Posted by: David | Nov 25, 2013 10:23:48 AM

Why, at this late date, are we pretending that we don't know what works? We have two generations of nationwide experience to tell us what works (and what doesn't). More prison, more cops, better LE training works (see 90's and 00's). Belief in limitless "second chances" and rehab doesn't (see 60's and 70's); indeed, it produces a crime wave.

How many times do we need to go over the numbers?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 25, 2013 10:25:37 AM

David --

An excellent point. Given that recidivism is about two-thirds, looking the other way at post-release offenses is a nifty, if thoroughly dishonest, tool for California to report whatever it wants and then tell the taxpayers, "See, it's not that bad!"

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 25, 2013 10:33:52 AM

I have the perfect solution. We get the "Justice" that the local community can pay for. I say we should totally eliminate the JAG program in its entirety.

Local LE will stop chasing federal bribes. Also, at the same time, we can eliminate all civil forfeiture cases (federal, state and local). There is nothing "civil" about forfeiture. Make the "system" prove its case, and more importantly, its worth.

Posted by: albeed | Nov 25, 2013 4:28:39 PM

Why, at this late date, does anyone think that Bill Otis isn't completely FOS about "what works"?

When he explains why New York, which has de-incarcerated to impressively low levels, has reduced crime more than higher incarceration states, I'll begin to take his bluster seriously. Otherwise, he's just hijacking Doug's threads to tell lies.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Nov 27, 2013 7:44:00 PM

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