DOJ Backs Down on Justice Reinvestment

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Department of Justice

Photo by John Taylor via Flickr

The U.S. Justice Department has withdrawn a controversial proposal to change the direction of the justice reinvestment program (JRI) that federal policymakers have supported for the last 11 years.

JRI encourages states to reduce their prison populations and reinvest money that is saved in programs that help departing inmates reenter society.

As The Crime Report described last month, after unsuccessfully persuading Congress to kill federal involvement in JRI, the Justice Department issued a request for proposals on June 28 for a “Justice Accountability Initiative” that DOJ developed, apparently to replace the kind of work that had been done by JRI over the years.

Proposals by outside contractors to take part in the new program were due on July 30.

Now, the DOJ plan has disappeared from the department’s website.

In its place is an announcement that a new solicitation for proposals “will be reposted shortly. Applicants will be provided with ample time to submit complete, competitive applications. Please check back in this space for JRI grant opportunities.”

The Justice Department has not made a public comment on the reason for the withdrawal, but several sources said that advocates of justice reinvestment had approached members of Congress who support JRI, contending that DOJ was not proceeding in line with expectations of lawmakers.

After the White House sought to zero out federal support for the program, the appropriations subcommittees in each House that handle the Justice Department’ budget each voted to recommend spending more than $20 million on JRI in the spending year that begins on October 1.

Congress is yet to approve a final budget, but approval by appropriations panels in both houses for a particular program means that it can expect to be funded.

JRI has been managed in recent years by the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and the Crime & Justice Institute.

Members of Congress were not immediately available to comment on the Justice Department’s latest move on justice reinvestment.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House subcommittee handling Justice Department appropriations, are among many legislators who have supported JRI.

Earlier this year, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Tom Marino (R-PA) led a group of 68 House members who declared their support for JRI.

John Wetzel, Pennsylvania’s Corrections Secretary, told The Crime Report, “I am happy that the Justice Department has pulled back its proposal and is taking another look at it. This program is huge for states.”

Wetzel noted that the Justice Reinvestment Initiative has “strong champions on both sides of the aisle who know that this is a federal program that works.” He serves as board chairman of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, one of the criminal justice organizations that has been administering the program. Both the justice center and Pew declined to comment for this article.

In its proposal that was withdrawn, DOJ sought proposals for research that would focus on reducing recidivism of state prison inmates.

The DOJ document noted that Congress has said that it intends JRI to fund “activities related to criminal justice reform and recidivism reduction.”

The DOJ wanted to start pilot projects that would improve risk assessment tools that are now being tested to predict repeat criminality among those on probation.

It was not immediately clear whether the revised Justice Department plan for JRI would include such a new effort aimed at recidivism reduction.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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