Justice Update: White House Criminal Justice Event, New Crime Numbers

April 22, 2016

Monday: White House, Brennan Center, and AEI Talk Mass Incarceration and the Economy

The White House, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and American Enterprise Institute will host an event Monday on the economic impact of the criminal justice system, highlighting a forthcoming report by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

The event also marks the public launch of the Brennan Center Economic Advisory Board, a bipartisan group of leading economists supporting the Center's data-driven approach to ending mass incarceration.

The invitation-only event at the White House kicks off a series of administration activities on criminal justice during National Reentry Week. It also comes as Congress works to pass bipartisan legislation to reform federal sentencing laws, as detailed in The New York Times.

Speakers include Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, and Brennan Center President Michael Waldman. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former economic advisor to John McCain; Peter Orszag, former Congressional Budget Office director; Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program; and other experts will also speak. David Rennie, The Economist's Washington, D.C., bureau chief, will moderate.

Holtz-Eakin and Furman also wrote an op-ed on the topic in yesterday’s New York Times.

New Data: Crime Rates Remain at Historic Lows, Final 2015 Numbers Show

Overall crime rates in America’s largest cities were nearly identical from 2014 to 2015, a new Brennan Center analysis shows, declining 0.1 percent. Crime remains at historic lows, despite recent upticks in a handful of cities.

The authors looked at changes in crime and murder using data through Dec. 31, 2015. They also examined economic factors in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., that could explain why murder rates are up in those cities. The three areas accounted for more than half of the increase in murders last year. Read more in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and The Atlantic.

“The average person in a large urban area is safer walking on the street today than he or she would have been at almost any time in the past 30 years,” authors Ames Grawert and James Cullen wrote in Crime in 2015: A Final Analysis. “That does not mean there is not variation across cities. In some cities, murder is up. However, there is not yet sufficient evidence to conclude that these levels will persist in the future or are part of a national trend.”

The new figures are an update to the Brennan Center's November 2015 report, Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis, authored by a team of economists and legal researchers, which found similar conclusions. 

How the Next President Can End Mass Incarceration

Criminal justice reform continues to be a hot topic in the presidential race. In recent weeks, that conversation has centered on how the 1994 Crime Bill contributed to America’s drop in crime and the increase in mass incarceration.  

Inimai Chettiar and Lauren-Brooke Eisen tackled the question for MSNBC, explaining how the bill contributed to both mass incarceration and the crime decline, but “not in the way that people might think.”

They said the legislation likely helped reduce crime because it added more cops on the street. It provided funding for 100,000 new police officers and grants to implement community-oriented policing programs. The crime bill also contributed to the rise in incarceration by providing grant funding for states that enacted “truth-in-sentencing” laws, requiring inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.   

Chettiar and Eisen went on to discuss proposals candidates should endorse to turn the tide, outlining the Brennan Center’s blueprint: The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act. The proposal, which was also featured in The New York TimesUpshot and The Hill, details exactly how the next president and Congress can act to help reduce mass incarceration.

Research Roundup

  • In a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers randomly sampled 1,829 youths awaiting adjudication in a Chicago detention center between 1995 and 1998, following up with them over the next 12 years. The authors found that while African American youth were disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system, they were the least likely group to experience substance use disorders, followed by Hispanic youth and non-Hispanic whites.
  • A recent report by the Alliance for a Just Society revealed a number of hurdles faced by adults with criminal records seeking employment. In addition to 112 mandatory federal employment restrictions for those with a felony criminal record, there are at least 41 such restrictions in every state. Ten states have more than 160 of these regulations, including 248 in Texas, 258 in Illinois, and 389 in Louisiana.
  • Recently, the East Bay Community Law Center released a report and interactive map documenting racial disparities in policing and traffic courts in California. The authors found African Americans make up 5.8 percent of San Francisco’s population, but represent 48.7 percent of arrests for warrants issued for failure to appear in traffic court or pay a traffic ticket.