The Brennan Center forges solutions. We devise innovative reforms to advance a more modern and responsive democracy.
The Brennan Center for Justice's new proposal, Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration, sets out a plan to link federal grant money to modern criminal justice goals – as a tool to promote innovative crime-reduction policies nationwide. 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. 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 nation’s broken voter registration system is a chief cause of long lines and Election Day chaos. Many states rely on a blizzard of paper records that are rife with error while leaving out eligible voters. The Brennan Center’s signature proposal to modernize voting would harness proven technology to ensure that every eligible voter is permanently registered. The move would add 50 million to the rolls, cost less, and curb the potential for fraud. Already 43 states — without fanfare or partisan wrangling — have moved to implement parts of the plan. In 2013, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced federal proposals based on the Center’s plan.
To counter the outsized role of big money in politics after Citizens United, the Brennan Center and Democracy 21 have a plan to boost the power of small donors in federal elections. Harnessing new breakthroughs in small donor fundraising, along with a multiple matching fund system, this innovative reform would magnify the role of average voters in elections. The proposal shows how a small donor matching fund model — used successfully in New York City and elsewhere — could work for Congressional elections. Reps. David Price and Chris Van Hollen introduced a similar proposal with the Empowering Citizens Act.
Senate leaders adopted a bipartisan package of rules changes designed to smooth Senate procedure and curb government gridlock. Advocates spent months pushing for significant change. Although this package fell well short of that goal, the Senate secured the first change to the filibuster rules in nearly 30 years. A Brennan Center report details the sharp rise in legislative obstruction in the Senate and offers a blueprint to curb filibuster abuse going forward. Read more on the history of filibuster abuse.
Classification is one of the most important tools our government has to keep us safe. But “overclassification” — the classification of information that could safely be released — jeopardizes national security and corrodes democratic government. The Brennan Center proposed six recommendations to curb needless secrecy. Our plan would require officials to provide explanations for their classification decisions, institute “spot audits” to evaluate these explanations and identify abuse, and hold classifiers and management accountable for routine or egregious overclassification. It would also encourage a shift in culture through common sense measures like providing incentives for government employees to challenge improper classification decisions. The Public Interest Declassification Board, the president’s advisory committee on classification, included parts of our proposal in its plan to overhaul government secrecy.
As part of its effort to keep New York safe from terrorism, the NYPD has vastly expanded its intelligence operations. The Department’s oversight mechanisms, however, have not kept pace with this new and expanded role. To increase oversight, the Brennan Center proposed an independent inspector general for the NYPD, which would mirror the oversight in place for decades at the FBI and the CIA. An inspector general would provide a much needed check on NYPD policies at a time when practices such as surveillance and stop-and-frisk are called into serious question, while helping to re-establish public trust.