What would have helped these community would have been an opportunity for all the public safety partners to come around the table, and figure out what our biggest public safety and human service challenges were, and to agree to focus on them as a community. There should have been agreements developed on how to reduce the arrest, detention, conviction and imprisonment for individuals coming in the front door, so that we could balance the community-based response to meeting the service needs of individuals coming out the back door. If billions spent on JAG were tied to outcome measures and benchmarks as systems were struggling with massive cuts, we could have had objective and reasoned debates with law enforcement with concrete data to find ways to balance the capacity to arrest, detain, incarcerate and support individuals in the community with existing local dollars.
- We might have seen city, state and county leaders work with police to shift practices to reduce the arrest of individuals for low level felonies, or misdemeanors;
- We might have seen communities close jails and prison, because the system could project fewer people coming in the door, and reinvest incarceration funds elsewhere in the system;
- We might have found informal ways to reduce the system’s focus on non-violent, non-serious individuals whose behavior could have been addressed without criminal justice involvement;
- We might have invest more local and JAG dollars on the kind of culturally competent, community-based treatment that everyone knows is lacking to help support individuals under community supervision in the community.
Federal policymaker need to take heed of what The Brennan Center for Justice proposed in,Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration. By changing the measures used to determine success of its grants, the U.S. Justice Department could have a catalytic impact on criminal justice policy (one that would not require legislation, and bypass the politics of reforming a $350 million funding stream). The proposal to shift JAG to a success-oriented funding system would hold state and local governments 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.
Jason is Director of Research and Policy for JPI. He has previous served in policy support roles to local government agencies that have spent JAG and COPS dollars.