Democrats’ Anti-Prison Bill Has Little Chance

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Because the new “Reverse Mass Incarceration Act” introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) lacks a Republican sponsor, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions is hostile to criminal justice reform, the chances of it moving forward any time soon are slim to none, reports Slate. The measure would offer $20 billion in federal grant money over 10 years to states that decrease their prison populations by at least seven percent over three years. The bill was encouraged by the Brennan Center for Justice and is backed across the civil rights community, from the NAACP’s Washington bureau to the National Urban League and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Backers say the incentives embedded in the law could reduce imprisonment rates nationwide by 20 percent in 10 years.

President Trump’s senior advisor Jared Kushner met with conservative Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) in March to discuss criminal justice reform, but it remains unclear whether the meeting produced any forward movement. “There’s tremendous political risk to cutting back [on incarceration], so I’m not sure you can just incentivize your way out of growth,” says John Pfaff, a Fordham law professor and the author of the book Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration–and How to Achieve Real Reform. The Booker-Blumenthal bill mandates that a state is eligible for grant money only if its overall prison population drops by at least 7 percent and its crime rate increases by no more than 3 percent. This makes very little sense as a matter of policy, Slate says. Crime rates can rise or fall for myriad reasons: unemployment rates, changes in drug markets, economic stability, lead exposure. Since crime rates in the U.S. peaked in 1990 and then began to drop, researchers have struggled to identify the main drivers of the decline.

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