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Booker, Blumenthal, Cárdenas Introduce Bill to Reduce Mass Incarceration and Crime

Bill would focus on investing in evidence-based programs to reduce incarceration and crime rates through state-based grants

May 21, 2019
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), along with Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) today reintroduced legislation designed to reverse an archaic policy of rewarding states for increasing their prison populations by incentivizing them to do the opposite. The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act establishes a grant program that allows states to invest in evidence-based programs designed to reduce crime and incarceration rates. Recent data has shown that higher incarceration rates do not make communities safer and since 2008, 35 states, including New Jersey, have simultaneously decreased their crime and imprisonment rates. Under the bill, states that have decreased their prison population by seven percent without substantially increasing their crime rate would be eligible to apply for the grant program. Grants would be awarded every three years. "When a nation has five percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its incarcerated people, there is something profoundly wrong with its criminal justice system," Senator Booker said. "Our bill recognizes that incarceration tears families apart, costs us billions annually, and doesnâ??t make our communities any safer. The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act would help move our criminal justice system away from an emphasis on over-incarceration and towards an evidence-based approach focused on programs that are proven to reduce crime and recidivism." "Our criminal justice system is in a state of crisis. The passage of federal, comprehensive criminal justice reform was a historic achievement that must be followed by change at the state level, where state sentencing policies are the major drivers of skyrocketing incarceration rates. Under current sentencing guidelines, millions of people -- a disproportionate number of them people of color -- have been handed harsh prison sentences, their lives irreparably altered, and our communities are no safer for it. In many cases, these draconian sentencing policies have had the opposite of their intended effect," Senator Blumenthal said. "We need to change federal incentives so that we reward states that are addressing this crisis and improving community safety, instead of funneling more federal dollars into a broken system." "For far too long 'tough on crime' policies have drowned out 'smart on crime' approaches," Representative Cárdenas said. "Smart on crime methods keep communities safer, save tax payer dollars, and are proven to prevent repeat offenses. Decades of one-sided practices have torn families and communities apart and depleted our resources. It is time to answer those costly policies with new ones that unravel the damage done, match our nation's commitment to criminal justice reform, and importantly invest in the safety and prosperity of every community member. That is why today I am proud to introduce the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act." "A vast majority of people in prison in the United States are incarcerated through state systems, and this legislation is the most effective way the federal government can help end mass incarceration," said Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Brennan Center's Justice Program. "It gives states financial incentives to reduce imprisonment, while keeping down crime. And because it sets targets instead of dictating specific policy, each state can choose their own path towards that goal."