Justice Department’s New Sentencing Reform Initiatives
The following is an excerpt form AG Loretta Lynch ‘s speech, on February 23., 2016, in DC at the at the National Association of Attorneys General Annual Winter Conference:
“Through the Smart on Crime initiative — launched by my predecessor, Eric Holder, in 2013 — we’re directing our prosecutorial resources at the most serious crimes, while investing in diversion and treatment programs like drug courts and veteran’s courts. And we’re placing a renewed focus on rehabilitation and reentry in order to reduce recidivism, promote public safety and ensure that formerly incarcerated individuals can return to their communities as productive citizens with a meaningful new chance at a better life.
As we all know, improving rehabilitation programs and reentry outcomes doesn’t just help formerly incarcerated individuals; it’s also good for our communities as a whole. More than 600,000 people are released from federal, state and local prisons every year and their ability to stay on the right path and stay out of the criminal justice system has a tremendous impact on the safety of our neighborhoods and the strength of our nation. That’s why the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which I am proud to chair, has brought together more than 20 federal agencies to curb recidivism and foster better prospects for employment, education, housing, healthcare and child welfare. It’s why the Department of Justice is forging partnerships with the Departments of Education, Labor, Housing and Urban Development and others to boost opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals and eliminate unnecessary collateral consequences of incarceration. And it’s why our Office of Justice Programs has offered nearly 750 Second Chance Act grants since 2009, totaling more than $400 million to support reentry efforts in 49 states.
Beyond these and other efforts at the Department of Justice, we are working with Congress to support meaningful legislation that combines front-end sentencing reforms and back-end corrections reforms. Over the past several months, we’ve seen important progress: sentencing and corrections legislation has been reported out of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have spoken out about the pressing need for reform. The Department of Justice will continue to support federal sentencing laws that reduce the overreliance on mandatory-minimum sentences and improve federal probation and supervised-release programs.
Of course, the Department of Justice and the Obama Administration cannot do this work alone. As the chief law enforcement officers of this country’s states and territories, you have the ability to bring about much-needed change. Over the past several years, many of you have led the way in helping enact justice system reforms in your own jurisdictions. This Administration has supported your work through efforts like the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), which helps states identify the drivers of rising corrections costs and develop solutions to reduce spending and increase public safety. JRI is currently active in 24 states and the experiences of states like Georgia and North Carolina demonstrate that JRI-involved states can both achieve significant reform — including reductions to incarceration rates — and produce savings while simultaneously enhancing public safety. Since 2011, Georgia’s prison population has dropped by 8 percent, instead of growing by 8 percent as projected, saving funds and reducing crowding. North Carolina’s prison population has decreased by almost 3,400 people since 2011 and the state has used savings from the closure of 10 prisons to add 175 probation and parole officers and to invest in intervention and treatment programs. At the same time, North Carolina’s crime rate has plunged 11 percent.
We will continue to support programs like JRI — and additional efforts that seek to make our criminal justice system more efficient, more effective and more fair across the board. In fact, President Obama’s budget for this coming fiscal year would invest $500 million in states’ comprehensive criminal justice reform efforts as part of the “21st Century Justice Initiative” — supporting a range of projects, from improving policing, to reducing unnecessary incarceration, to bolstering re-entry services. This is an exciting and groundbreaking initiative and I am hopeful that Congress will move forward in support of its goals.”