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Press Release

Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Incentivize Reductions in Prison Populations

The legislation would use the power of the purse to support states in efforts to decrease the number of people in prison – while keeping crime low.

May 21, 2019

Media Contact: Rebecca Autrey,, 646–292–8316

Washington, D.C. – Federal lawmakers introduced a bill today that would provide financial incentives for states that reduce crime and incarceration at the same time.

The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.). It’s based on a 2015 proposal by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

“A vast majority of people in prison in the United States are incarcerated through state systems, and this legislation is one of the most effective ways the federal government can help end mass incarceration,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

“The bill will help unwind some of the funding that helped fuel local growth in prison rates, and direct money to states that are aiming for more fair and just outcomes,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Senior Fellow in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

Unlike prior bills that created incentives for boosting the prison population, this legislation would use the power of the purse to support states in efforts to decrease the number of people in prison – while keeping crime low. States would be eligible to apply for federal grants if the total number of people behind bars in the state decreased by 7 percent or more in three years, and there is no substantial increase in the overall crime rate within the state.

The following groups have also spoken out in support of the legislation:

“This is an important step forward in the effort to roll back the effects of mass incarceration, which have disproportionately impacted African American and other minority communities for years,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Individual states are making headway on bi-partisan driven reform. With the Reverse Mass Incarceration bill, Congress can incentivize and drive positive criminal justice reform from the national level.”

“The rise of mass incarceration was a bipartisan disaster. Both parties co-signed tough on crime policies that actually made our streets less safe and ripped apart millions of families in the process,” said Van Jones, co-founder of #cut50 and CEO of REFORM. “It’s time for Congress to begin to unwind this mess. The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act is not just good legislation – it’s a necessary step forward. States are desperate to reduce their prison populations and cut down on rising criminal justice costs. This bill will help incentivize evidence-based programming that could lead to a 20% reduction in our prison population while also reducing crime.”

“We cannot incarcerate our way out of America’s problems. This bill is a step in the right direction to reduce the mass incarceration in this country. The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act is particularly important after enactment of the First Step Act that included several incremental reforms on the federal level. The ACLU thinks that the RMIA will encourage states to continue the work of reforming our criminal justice system. ” said Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Congress should act swiftly to pass this bill.”

“Rep. Cárdenas, and Senators Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal, have developed a creative policy proposal that would serve as a powerful tool to accelerate state efforts in reversing the damaging impact of mass incarceration,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “Through the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2019, the federal government would incentivize states that diminish mass incarceration rates through enacting prison-reduction policies, developing objective public safety measures, and by using evidence-based programs as alternatives to confinement. This proposal builds on smart prison-reduction policies while also reducing crime. The National Urban League applauds the lawmakers and is committed to working with them until this bill is signed into law.”

“We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world and it’s not something about which we should be proud. We have needlessly sent hundreds of thousands of people to jail or prison who are not a threat to public safety and taken billions of dollars from education and human services that could help create healthier, safer societies,” said Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. “We have burdened families, communities and individuals who need help, not extreme punishment. With misguided subsidies and federal dollars, we have created an incarceration crisis in too many communities. This Act is a critically needed response to the problems over-incarceration has created in America. This is urgent, important legislation that deserves all of our support.”

To learn more about the Brennan Center’s Justice work, click here.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Rebecca Autrey at