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March 14, 2023

Brennan Center publishes "A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Incarceration: Introducing the Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act"

The folks at the Brennan Center for Justice have a new report available here authored by Hernandez D. Stroud, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, and Ram Subramanian titled "A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Incarceration: Introducing the Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act."  Here is part of the report's introduction:

According to a 2016 Brennan Center for Justice report, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. prison population is incarcerated without any compelling public safety justification. Incarceration degrades people’s humanity, disrupts their social networks, and causes lifelong social and financial disadvantage through restricted access to education, jobs, and housing.  It also devastates families and communities, disproportionately affecting society’s most marginalized segments.

Reforms have reduced the population behind bars from its 2009 peak, yet an astonishing level of incarceration persists: today over 1.2 million people are confined to federal and state prisons, and just over 636,000 more are locked up in local jails.  Few states have achieved significant reductions in their prison populations, and in some places these populations have begun to grow again.

For a half century, the federal government has harnessed its grant-making power to spur states to incarcerate more people and to impose longer sentences, making the United States the most punitive country in the world.  It can now use that same funding power to reverse course.  The idea of using federal funding to reduce incarceration is not new, but recent programs have had mixed results.  For example, between 2010 and 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) provided state and local governments with technical assistance and direct funding to reduce their prison populations.  But this funding did not always produce the intended outcome....

Yet since assuming office in 2021, the Biden administration, while retaining JRI’s focus on recidivism reduction, now specifically allows grant money to support efforts to reduce incarceration for new crimes or technical violations of community supervision.  And more recently, in August 2022, as part of his 2023 budget proposal to Congress, President Biden unveiled a grant program called Accelerating Justice System Reform, which would dedicate $15 billion over 10 years for jurisdictions to implement crime prevention and public health approaches to public safety.

Building on this momentum, the Brennan Center for Justice calls on Congress to enact a new, $1 billion federal funding program, called the Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act, to channel money to states with the goal of reducing unnecessary incarceration while promoting humane and fair criminal-justice policies that preserve public safety.  The proposal, based on a previous Brennan Center policy solution — the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act — was crafted in consultation with a variety of stakeholders, including formerly incarcerated individuals.

March 14, 2023 at 09:45 AM | Permalink


Other than send money, the only substantive reform is "prohibit states from enacting punitive sentencing laws such as mandatory-minimum rules or truth-in-sentencing statutes during the lifetime of the funding."

That's all they've got?

Posted by: shg | Mar 14, 2023 10:15:16 AM

I agree, especially when it comes to drug users and people selling low quantities of drugs to support their drug habit. In the Federal Justice system, most of these people arrested have previous state records for petty crimes because of drug use. They are not "traffickers" yet, because of their history, they are spending decades in prison. Some, sentenced on witness statements only, no evidence of selling or possessing drugs. Convicted under the "relevant conduct" conspiracy. They warehouse these people on the taxpayers back and when they are release 15-30 years later? They are still dependant on the taxpayer. How does this benefit anyone? They expect a 65 year old to find a job after being in prison for 20 years? This is a serious problem, destroying this person further and anyone connected to this person.
Biden promised to fix this policy with its mandatory sentencing that extremely harsh and unnecessary. Why is this country sentencing people for low level crimes longer than murderers?

Posted by: Randy Cowan | Mar 14, 2023 2:43:21 PM

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