Thursday, March 6, 2014

President’s Budget: Tiny Steps to Deinarcerate and Billions for Prisons and Police

By Marc Schindler

President Obama and his administration released their Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget plan on March 4. For folks favoring a broader response to meeting public safety and youth development goals, the budget is a mixed bag with the bulk of the Justice Department’s $27 billion being spent on ways to incarcerate and arrest more people. These enormous investments in continuing to lock up more and more people contrasts with the President’s statements at the launch last week of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative: a promising effort intended to create opportunities for boys and young men of color, including approaches to keep them out of the justice system.

The budget takes modest steps to restore some youth development funds deleted from the president’s 2014 budget proposal by the last Congress.  According to the
Act for JJ, a campaign that JPI is part of advocating for the reauthorization of a strengthened Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the budget restores the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants program funding, and continues some of the new monies recommended to help address and eliminate community violence.

While only a small part of the $299.4 million federal juvenile justice budget, it is encouraging to see a $10 million fund for “Juvenile Justice Realignment Incentive Grants” – funds designated to help states implement evidence-based strategies that reduce youth incarceration and foster better outcomes for youth. As we showed in our reports,  Cost Effective Youth Correction:  Rationalizing the fiscal architecture of juvenile justice systems, and Common Ground: Lessons learned from five states that reduced juvenile confinement by more than half, funding streams that help encourage states to right-size their juvenile justice systems have played a big role in reducing the use of incarceration in states.

This is an important step, but a small step. The president’s youth development budget falls short of the funds advocated for by Act for JJ, including the $20 million originally requested by the president to support state deincarceration efforts, and $30 million more needed for juvenile justice efforts overall. These funds are also dwarfed by other budget proposals in the justice realm.  

As Ted Gest notes in The Crime Report, of the $27 billion proposed for Justice, the largest line items are $9 billion for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s various efforts, and $8.4 billion for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Most of the BOP funds are spent on a growing federal prison population, largely driven by the incarceration of individuals for drug offenses.

The president’s proposed budget also boosts funding for the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program, up from $180 million in FY 2014 to $222 million in FY 2015—something that expands local capacity to arrest more individuals, and subsidizes local government to employ police when cities or counties could be right-sizing.  

In contrast to the billions being spent to imprison and arrest more people, the federal investment in re-entry and other ways to meet public safety needs are failing to keep pace.  The president’s budget includes a modest increase in the Second Chance Act (from $68 million to $115 million), a funding stream that supports reentry efforts in the states.

All eyes are on the $414 federal residential drug abuse program, and whether its implementation will create opportunities for states to treat drug-involved individuals outside of a correctional setting. 

In short, a little additional money to help states ween themselves off youth incarceration is a big deal for a country that spends $80 billion on prisons and jails -- and can make a difference. But there is plenty more work to be done to press elected officials to make smarter budget choices to reduce incarceration, and invest in effective ways to prevent crime.

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Marc is executive director for the Justice Policy Institute.

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