With more than 2 million Americans in jail and 68 million with a criminal record, it is worth asking: why do Federal grants reward increased arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration instead of reduced crime?
Inimai Chettair and Nicole Fortair from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law suggest a transition to more prudent grant administration in criminal justice. Chettair and Fortair propose grants that fund programs to reduce serious and violent crime and improve re-entry. Enacted at the height of the War on Drugs, initiatives that incentivize harsher punishment, high-volume arrests, and prosecutions are no longer necessary or beneficial.
This new approach would incorporate a ‘Success-Oriented Funding’ strategy: a progressive model that prioritizes true public safety metrics and employs new performance measures for law enforcement and prosecutors. Borrowed from “social finance” models and driving successful reforms in education and health care sector, Success-Oriented Funding encourages police officers to spend their time investigating violent crimes and divert low-risk offenders to less costly and less dramatic programs. This way, the state rightly prioritizes investigating violent crimes over convicting petty criminals.
Adaptable and easily replicated, state systems can mix and match different kinds of Success-Oriented Funding to fit individual needs. Conditional funding rewards institutions for achieving baseline goals, while bonus funding rewards exceptional achievements, such as a 20% crime reduction.
Illinois experienced a recent success with its Adult Redeploy program, which encourages diverting petty offenders to specialty courts or probation rather than prisons. Counties are rewarded when they incarcerate 25 percent less; thus, prison is seen as the worst, not the best, alternative. In 2011 alone, these incentives decreased recidivism by 20% and kept 800 people out of prison, saving Corrections $16 million in prison costs.
Chettair and Fortair call upon the U.S. Attorney General, Congress, and other stakeholders to utilize this unique funding mechanism. They are working in collaboration with federal policymakers to implement reforms to Byrne JAG, the most significant federal criminal justice funding source. As Success-Oriented Funding gains traction on the national stage, other states should consider introducing this unique approach to grant administration to allocate their justice resources in the optimal way.