JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI – Following a roundtable discussion with Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and community leaders focused on criminal justice reform in Jackson, Mississippi, Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg today unveiled three criminal justice reform policy proposals. The proposals focus on reducing the U.S. incarceration rate — the highest in the world — and addressing the failings of a criminal justice system that disproportionately harms communities of color. Bloomberg will unveil a comprehensive plan for criminal justice reform in the coming weeks.
As mayor of New York City, Bloomberg introduced new policies that drove down the number of people behind bars by nearly 40 percent, even as incarceration rates rose in the rest of the country. If the rest of the country had achieved that kind of reduction, there would have been about 900,000 fewer people behind bars nationally. Further, Bloomberg undertook a comprehensive reform of the juvenile justice system, which stressed treatment and education over punishment and sought to keep young people in their homes and communities. During his three terms, the number of juveniles confined in facilities fell by 63 percent, a drop that was one-third larger than the rest of the country.
“I’m running for president to fix our country’s most difficult problems — including ending the era of mass incarceration, which has needlessly destroyed millions of lives,” said Mike Bloomberg. “The initiatives we announced today will be an important first step toward building a fairer, better country. We cut incarceration by 39 percent in New York City, while also cutting crime to record lows — and we can do the same nationally.”
“Mike Bloomberg launched some of the most progressive juvenile justice reforms of any city at the time — long before many others had woken up to the crisis. The impact of these reforms was significant: far fewer young people detained and incarcerated, and many more young people staying at home and in school, and receiving the services and support they surely needed,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, NYC Department of Correction Board Member and former Family Services Coordinator of New York City. “No set of policies are flawless; however, it’s important to make sure we recognize where we have made meaningful positive change, and look to the future and tangible next steps that will change lives for the better.”
The key pillars of Bloomberg’s initial criminal justice reform proposals include:
1. Launching a national initiative to reduce the incarceration of young people, by building on New York City’s success in cutting youth incarceration rates.
There are approximately 53,000 youths incarcerated away from their homes. Nearly 10 percent are held in an adult jail or prison. (1)
Proposed Solution: Cut youth incarceration in half by the end of Bloomberg’s first term in office. Make it a national priority to completely end the detention of all non-violent, low-risk youths, based on three core principles pioneered in New York City:
- Risk assessment based prevention strategies.
- Keeping youth in school and close to home.
- Support services instead of punishment.
At least 89 percent of juvenile offenders are in “locked” facilities, i.e., jails or detention centers. (2)
Proposed Solution: Expand Federal grants to cities and states that implement effective alternative placement programs for adolescents.
An estimated 17,000 juvenile offenders are incarcerated for low-level, non-violent crimes and 6,000 youths are being held prior to conviction. (3)
Proposed Solution: Increase Federal grants to cities and states that adopt risk-assessment tools to reduce detention of adolescents awaiting trial.
2. Expanding federal funding of effective alternatives to adult incarceration and investing in policies that help formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter society, find employment and escape the cycle of crime.
There are more than two million people incarcerated in jails and prisons in the U.S., a rate that has decreased only slightly over the past decade. More than half are African-American or Latino.
Proposed Solution: Pass federal legislation that incentivizes states to reduce incarceration through strategies pioneered in New York City:
- Risk assessment and programs that give judges alternatives to detention. Based on past criminal record and other factors, risk-assessment tools enable courts and probation officers to identify low-risk defendants who are eligible for non-custodial options while their cases are pending.
- Supervised release for pre-trial defendants facing non-violent charges. Introduced in New York City by the Bloomberg administration, supervised release provided judges with a pre-trial alternative to confinement and bail for non-violent felony offenders. Defendants were monitored in the community by non-profit service providers, including mental health service providers, in an effort to reduce judges’ and prosecutors’ reliance on bail.
- Probation policies that shift the focus away from punishment for non-compliance toward providing services to help individuals move out of the system.
On any given day, around 500,000 people are jailed while they await trial — many because they can’t afford to post bail. (4) African-Americans and Latinos are more likely than whites to be denied bail and to be detained because they can’t pay their bond.
Proposed Solution: Provide incentives to states to reduce or eliminate the use of cash bail for non-violent offenders. Increase funding for jurisdictions that adopt risk assessment tools that allow judges to make better decisions about whether defendants awaiting trial can be released.
Of the 626,000 people released from jails and prisons in 2016, 80 percent were in their prime working years. (5) The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals is 27 percent.
Proposed Solution: Start a federal program to help ex-prisoners find paid work by extending grants to states and tax incentives for employers. Expand “ban the box” policies to prohibit federal agencies and contractors from asking about job applicants’ criminal records until a conditional job offer is made. Provide incentives to cities and states to ban the box in hiring for public employee and contractor positions, as Bloomberg did as mayor.
Among people in federal and state prisons, 64 percent have a GED or high-school diploma, but only 9 percent receive a certificate from a college or trade school while in prison. Just 12,000 incarcerated individuals are eligible to receive Pell Grants to pay for education.
Proposed Solution: Restore access to Federal Pell Grants for all incarcerated individuals, allowing them to pay for post-secondary education in prison.
3. Investing in proven, community-based violence-interruption strategies that address the root causes of crime and prevent violent behavior before it occurs.
In the U.S. there are nearly 110,000 gun deaths and injuries per year. These events often cause retaliation and perpetuate patterns of gun violence. Public-health approaches that treat the problem as an epidemic can disrupt patterns and drive down gun-related crime, incarceration, and costs.
Proposed Solution: Increase federal funding for programs like Cure Violence, which Bloomberg introduced in New York and which mobilizes local community members and credible authorities to dissuade others from committing violence.
Read the initial proposals here.