Brennan Center Notes History of Incarceration Reduction and a Proposal to Improve on it Via Funding

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By Ramneet Singh

NEW YORK, NY – The Brennan Center for Justice proposed the Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act this week with what it says is the goal of funding to reduce the prison population and lowering recidivism.

To put the proposed impact of this legislation into context, the Brennan Center said, “The United States’ incarcerated population would decrease to numbers last seen before 1993,” the year before the 1994 crime bill.

The authors of the report are Hernandez D. Stroud, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, and Ram Subramanian, who open with the acknowledgement that, according to the Center’s own data, “nearly 40 percent of the U.S. prison population is incarcerated without any compelling public safety justification.”

They highlight the long term impact of this and who is disproportionately affected. The cited source from noted that “Black adults are 50 percent more likely than white adults to have had an immediate family member incarcerated (63 percent compared to 42 percent).

Authors note that source states, “adults with household incomes less than $25,000 per year are 61 percent more likely than adults with household incomes more than $100,000 to have had a family member incarcerated, and three times more likely to have had a family member incarcerated for one year or longer.”

The fifth page of the full Brennan report discusses the issue of mass incarceration with the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965. In this context, it “laid the foundation for the federal government to steer states toward punitive enforcement policies and practices through funding.”

The report elaborates on the expansion of this with different policies in subsequent administrations, including the “Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968” and the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,” among others.

Brennan Center said there have been efforts to reduce incarceration via funding like the Justice Reinvestment Initiative from 2010 to 2017. The Initiative moved to crime and recidivism reduction under President Trump.

In the cited report “Justice Reinvestment: Vision and Practice,” Sabol and Baumann wrote in their conclusion that “the JRI, which had success in enrolling states, accelerating the pace of legislative change, and adopting EBPs, did not demonstrate that it led to reductions in prison populations, cost savings, or improvements in public safety.”

President Biden, they add, has focused additionally on incarceration reduction, most recently in setting his 2023 budget proposal, unveiling 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.”

The cited a White House report elaborated that the goals of this reform are to “ (1) prevent violent crime and/or (2) ease the burden on police officers by identifying non-violent situations that may merit a public health response or other response.”

The authors said the “Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act” involves funding states to lower “unnecessary incarceration” and encourage “humane and fair criminal justice policies.”

The grant program, the authors said, includes funding to understand underlying factors of this incarceration and reward states for reducing incarceration by a certain amount in a given time among other things.

The seventh page of the Brennan report notes that “the two aims of the initiative: shrinking prison populations and reducing recidivism.”  

The authors said they “calculated the projected prison population by first identifying the 25 states with the highest prison populations and then applying to those states a 20 percent reduction.” This was part of the method in getting a total of 860,989.

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