Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the White House’s Justice Department funding request for the fiscal year 2015. The budget asks Congress to allot $27.4 billion to the Justice Department next year, $173 million of which will be earmarked for criminal justice reform. If approved, the $173 million budget for criminal justice reform would represent an increase of $122 million over the enacted budget for 2014.
Attorney General Holder’s proposed criminal justice reforms are part of his “Smart on Crime” initiative, which proposes to lower criminal justice spending and crime rates by implementing alternatives to incarceration for some offenders and lowering recidivism rates. When you earn your degree online for your Master of Science in Criminal and Social Justice, you’ll learn about the benefits and drawbacks of programs like the ones Attorney General Holder suggests.
Reducing Incarceration Rates
A big part of Attorney General Holder’s plan involves reducing incarceration rates. The U.S. currently accounts for 25 percent of the world’s prison inmates, despite being home to only 5 percent of its total population.
The majority of American prison inmates have been incarcerated for low-level drug offenses, which are subject to mandatory minimum sentences. Some of these sentences keep non-violent drug offenders behind bars for up to ten years. Attorney General Holder recently expressed his support of a U.S. Sentencing Commission proposal to reduce prison terms for non-violent drug offenders. The proposal would reduce prison sentences for up to 70 percent of those incarcerated for non-violent, drug-related crimes and would reduce the average drug-related prison sentence by 11 months. Over the next five years, the proposal is expected to lead to the release of 6,500 inmates.
The Justice Department is also considering a policy leading to compassionate release for elderly inmates who are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, have already served a significant amount of their time and who pose no public threat. Such a policy is already in place, but it’s currently available only to those inmates who can demonstrate compelling extenuating circumstances. The new policy would simply expand compassionate release to all elderly inmates who are not deemed a threat.
For drug offenders in particular, Attorney General Holder has advocated the expansion of the drug courts and diversion programs providing offenders with addiction treatment in lieu of incarcerating them. Drug courts are effective; they reduce up to 45 percent more crime than other options for dealing with drug offenders. They also save tax payers and the criminal justice system $3,000 to $13,000 per client in criminal justice costs and victimisation-related costs.
Attorney General Holder also called for the reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008. The Second Chance Act makes provisions to help inmates re-integrate into their communities after being released from prison, in order to reduce recidivism rates. Some portions of the bill make provisions for inmates to be released into halfway houses for longer periods of time and increase the percentage of a federal prison term that can be served in home confinement.
Other provisions to reduce recidivism rates include offering inmates more educational and vocational training opportunities, job placement services, mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Ongoing support would also be provided to offenders who are re-entering the community after incarceration, including housing assistance, conflict management skills training, job training and educational opportunities. $115 million of the $173 million requested for criminal justice reforms would go towards funding Second Chance Act grant programs to provide federal, state, local and tribal facilities with the funds they need to implement counter-recidivism measures.
An additional $15 million would go to U.S. attorneys for crime prevention programs, re-entry programs, veteran courts and drug courts. $15 million more would expand the federal residential drug abuse program, while $14 million would be earmarked for substance abuse treatment at the state and local levels and a final $14 million would go to help inmates re-integrate into their communities and avoid re-arrest.
Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced a range of planned reforms to the criminal justice system, which would take place as part of his Smart on Crime initiative. These reforms could reduce recidivism rates, especially for non-violent drug offenders, and lower the U.S. prison population. With any luck, the proposed reforms will reduce crime while also cutting costs.
Attorney General Holder image by the U.S. Department of Justice from Wikimedia Commons.