WASHINGTON, D.C.In a display of continued misplaced priorities, the joint House-Senate Conference Committee last week recommended a 2012 budget for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that puts locking people up ahead of helping reduce delinquency, protecting youth that come into contact with the juvenile justice system and improving outcomes for formerly incarcerated people.

This imbalanced budget will do little to reduce the burden of incarceration on our country or improve community safety in a lasting and meaningful way. The U.S. DOJ budget proposes increases over 2010 levels for the two main lock-ups at the federal level: the Bureau of Prisons and the Federal Detention Trustee (which oversees immigration detention facilities). In addition, other federal policing – the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Marshal’s service and the Drug Enforcement Administration – also will see increases over 2010 budget levels. While support to state and local law enforcement decreased, the percentage cut was far less than that exacted on the Second Chance Act and juvenile justice programs, which were cut 37 percent over 2010 levels.

“The 2012 budget reflects a disconnect between Congress and the states,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, DC based organization. “With crime rates continuing to drop, state and local officials are reforming the policies that cause over-incarceration and finding ways to decrease their prison populations and corrections costs. It makes no sense to increase the BOP budget and expand federal enforcement when our communities are safer than they’ve been in decades.”

While the drop in Community Oriented Policing (COPS) and Byrne/JAG funding is a departure from what has been seen in recent budgets (including billions allocated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), continued increases in federal law enforcement and incarceration and decreases in services will likely result in increased costs to states for incarceration that will yield marginal public safety benefits. While re-entry programs, such as those funded through the Second Chance Act will help reduce the chances that a person returns to prison after release, too little funding is targeted towards “no-entry:” programs that keep people from ending up in prison in the first place. As states struggle with tough economic times and high prison populations, research shows that the most cost-effective ways to increase public safety, reduce prison populations, and save money are to invest in community-based programs that positively impact youth.

“Juvenile justice was already barely a blip in the Justice budget,” noted Sarah Bryer, Director of the National Juvenile Justice Network, a membership organization for advocacy organizations across the country. “Federal funds help protect kids who are incarcerated from abuse, and provide communities the resources they need to help youth in trouble with the law back on the right track. Putting juvenile justice at 2010 levels rather than slashing it over a third would have increased the DOJ budget by less than one percent.”

To read JPI’s brief on the DOJ budget, CLICK HERE. For additional information, please contact Zerline Hughes at (202) 558-7974 x308 or [email protected]. For more JPI reports on the juvenile justice system and police funding, please visit our website at www.justicepolicy.org

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For more information, please visit www.justicepolicy.org.