New Report: Next President Should Enact Federal Plan to Reverse Mass Incarceration

October 12, 2015

More than 20 years after the 1994 “Crime Bill” directed federal funds toward building new prisons across the country, a new Brennan Center report urges Congress to pass legislation that would do the reverse — use federal dollars to reward states that successfully reduce both crime and incarceration. Dubbed the “Reverse Mass Incarceration Act,” the proposal could result in a 20 percent reduction in state prisoners over the next decade. 

The proposed legislation, laid out in detail here, has four main components:

  • A new federal grant program of $20 billion in incentive funds over 10 years to states.
  • A requirement that only states that reduce their prison population by 7 percent over a three-year period, without an increase in crime, will receive funds.
  • A clear methodology based on population size and other factors to determine how much money states receive.
  • A requirement that states invest these funds in evidence-based programs proven to reduce crime and incarceration.

“The 1994 Crime Bill contributed to mass incarceration by giving states money to build prisons and pass harsher sentencing laws,” said co-author Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Justice Program senior counsel. “This plan would aim to reverse that trend and put federal dollars into programs that work to reduce crime.”

“Presidential candidates have spoken out about the need to reduce imprisonment. Some have outlined modest proposals,” added co-author and Justice Program Director Inimai Chettiar. “Our next president, no matter what party he or she belongs to, must make reducing incarceration a top priority. The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act offers a strong, bold proposal.”

“States, such as California, Texas, and Illinois, have achieved great successes at implementing this type of funding incentive model to reduce their prison populations,” said Marc Levin, founder and policy director of Right on Crime. 

Read the full proposal, The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act.