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Federal Government Should Fully Fund Grants That Help States Improve Corrections

When the President and Congress finalize program funding for fiscal year 2018, they should increase funding for three key Justice Department grants that help states reduce recidivism and improve the corrections system: the Second Chance Act, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, and the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program.  While these programs have strong bipartisan support and are making a difference in communities, they haven’t reached their full potential because policymakers haven’t provided adequate funding.  Some have seen funding declines in recent years — a concerning trend that proposed House and Senate funding bills would fail to fix.  

States use these grants to test new strategies or replicate promising innovations to limit incarceration and reduce recidivism.  While we need broader criminal justice reforms to reduce prison and jail populations, reduce recidivism, improve access to health care and services within corrections and upon exit, and end gross racial disparities and the over-representation of people with behavioral health conditions, these grants have an important role to play.  When implemented well, the grants are critical investments that help communities learn how to better serve people who face extra barriers to successfully reentering the community — including people with behavioral health challenges or histories of homelessness — in turn improving outcomes for vulnerable people and potentially easing pressure on state and local budgets.

  • The Second Chance Act funds grants that help people avoid returning to jail or prison.  These grants helped Allegheny County, Pennsylvania create a reentry program that reduced rearrests among participants by an estimated 24 percent, using intensive case management to help people plan for life in the community before leaving jail, and connecting them to behavioral health services, housing, and other resources once they were back in the community.  Funding for the Second Chance Act peaked at $100 million in 2010, but the program received only $68 million in each of the last three fiscal years.  The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a 2018 funding bill that would increase funding by $2 million, to $70 million, but that’s still $30 million below the 2010 level and less than half of the $165 million per year that the President and Congress authorized for the program.
  • The Justice Reinvestment Initiative provides technical assistance to help states use data-driven approaches to curb corrections spending, reduce recidivism, and improve public safety.  The program succeeds the most when it adheres closely to its original goals of shrinking prison and jail populations and investing in communities that are most affected by high levels of incarceration.  Arkansas’ Justice Reinvestment Initiative’s investments in crisis stabilization services, which help people with mental health conditions avoid jail and connect to community-based treatment instead, were a step in the right direction.  Federal funding for the Justice Reinvestment Initiative fell from $27.5 million in fiscal years 2014, 2015, and 2016, to $25 million in 2017 — which is what the proposed House and Senate funding bills include for 2018.
  • The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program’s grants help state and local governments better serve people with mental illness who are involved in the justice system by building collaborations among the corrections, mental health, and substance use treatment systems.  One such grant helped the Minnesota Department of Corrections and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota create a crisis intervention team within the state prison system to train prison staff to identify mental illness, deescalate mental health crises, and connect people to mental health resources inside prisons.  While a House-approved funding bill included a $2 million increase for the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program that would fund the program at $14 million in 2018, that’s still far below the $50 million that’s authorized for the program. 

The President and Congress should invest in these programs to help states test new strategies and implement promising practices for improving the corrections system.