Group Criticizes Obama Administration’s Budget Plan to Increase Policing and Prisons
Justice advocates disturbed by proposed $29 billion for ineffective and unfair policies
Washington, D.C. – The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a factsheet today challenging the Obama administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2011 Department of Justice budget . The Administration is asking for $29.2 billion, which includes more funding for law enforcement and prisons, and reductions in spending on juvenile justice programs that have been proven to be effective at getting youth back on track for positive life outcomes.
“The Administration’s rationale for dumping more money into COPS (the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program) is that we need more police while the economy improves in order to prevent crime,” stated Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “That doesn’t pass the smell test. Crime rates have been falling for the last few years and we’ve already put a billion stimulus dollars into more policing last year. If the Administration wants to buy jobs that will improve public safety, they should put that $600 million into struggling communities, schools, treatment, and social services.”
Velázquez also noted that the proposed budget will likely result in increased incarceration costs for states, with only marginal public safety benefits. This is at a time when financially-strapped states are trying to downsize prisons through such mechanisms as greater use of community supervision and more diversion programs. While Velázquez praised funding for the Second Chance Act, which helps formerly-incarcerated people with their transition back to the community, she added, “More money should be focused on programs that help to keep people out of the criminal and juvenile justice systems in the first place.” These alternatives include community-based prevention and early intervention programs for youth, education and employment training, and substance abuse and mental health treatment services.
Some of the key findings in the newly-released fact sheet include:
• Byrne Justice Assistance Grants: JPI found that while the $500+ million proposed for this program can be used for prevention and education, in reality most money goes to law enforcement. Research has shown that increased law enforcement results in the least-effective solution—higher drug imprisonment rates—while this money could be more effectively spent on community drug treatment.
• Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Funding: The Administration is requesting $600 million in hiring and retention grants for police officers, purportedly anticipating a rise in crime as the economy recovers. Such increased policing is likely to have a concentrated impact on communities of color, who are already disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. JPI suggests this money would be better spent on creating jobs, housing, and treatment programs for increased public safety.
• Juvenile Justice Programs: Funding for essential juvenile justice programs has been declining for years, and the Administration is proposing a $133 million decrease this year. Evidence shows that youth who spend time incarcerated have decreased educational and employment opportunities. Currently, there are more than 90,000 youth imprisoned in the United States. Investments in prevention programs, by contrast, are associated with improved public safety and better life outcomes for youth. “At a time when the Administration can’t seem to find the time to hire someone to run the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention,” stated Velázquez, “this lack of commitment to funding core programs that protect and help youth is discomfiting.”
• Drug Courts: JPI commends the federal government’s interest in pursuing treatment as an option for people with substance abuse problems as an alternative to incarceration. However, drug courts, and the criminal justice system generally, can’t and shouldn’t be used as a substitute for community-based treatment services through the public health system, where it is most effective and appropriate.
• Adam Walsh Act: Having failed to bully states with threats of funding cuts if they fail to comply with the Adam Walsh Act, the federal government is adding a “carrot” to the “stick”: $20 million to help states implement the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). A number of reports have found little correlation between the use of sex offender registries and keeping children safe. In addition, broad compliance with SORNA will increase the number of people who cannot meet their basic needs (housing, employment), which is a major risk factor for recidivism. Especially hard-hit are youth on registries that may be barred from pro-social activities that can have a positive impact on improving their lives and on public safety.
• Increased Funding for Prisons: Increased funding for prison beds will likely lead to higher prison populations and expenses without significantly improving public safety. In fact, most states are reducing prison populations due to the current economic crisis and are seeking more effective solutions.
“While I hesitate to grade the Administration,” concluded Velázquez, “we certainly were optimistic that it would use the research that groups like JPI have done over the years in developing its justice budget. We hope the Administration will more seriously engage the reform community in the budget process in the future so that budgets and policies will be prioritized to one day allow the United States – land of the free—to leave behind the shameful moniker of being the world’s largest jailor.”
The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) is a Washington, D.C.-based research and policy organization that promotes fair and rational justice policies. For more information, please visit www.justicepolicy.org