New Proposal: Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration
New York, NY – A leading law and policy institute unveiled a new proposal to reform the federal government’s largest criminal justice funding program. 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.
“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. The proposal notes:
Current measures inadvertently incentivize unwise policy choices. Federal officials ask states to report the number of arrests, but not whether the crime rate dropped. They measure the amount of cocaine seized, but not whether arrestees were screened for drug addiction. They tally the number of cases prosecuted, but not whether prosecutors reduced the number of petty crime offenders sent to prison. In short, today’s JAG performance measures fail to show whether the programs it funds have achieved “success”: improving public safety without needless social costs.
“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.
“The Brennan Center’s proposed reforms will provide state and local law enforcement with the tools they need to evaluate how successful their own practices are at reducing crime, while encouraging them to adopt innovative crime-reduction programs developed by colleagues across the country.” said Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation and a 33-year law enforcement veteran.
“Those of us who are conservatives know the importance of measuring performance and ensuring that incentives in any system are aligned to the desired goals,” said Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and one of the nation’s leading conservative criminal justice experts. “We have documented the benefits of policies in Ohio, Illinois, and Texas that tie funding to goals such as reducing recidivism, substance abuse, and the unnecessary incarceration of nonviolent offenders. This report highlights how the federal government can learn from and promote the most successful of these state and local programs, in order to create a more modern and effective justice system.”
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.
To read the full report click here.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. We work to hold our political institutions and laws accountable to the twin American ideals of democracy and equal justice for all. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism. A singular institution — part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group, part communications hub — the Brennan Center seeks meaningful, measurable change in the systems by which our nation is governed.