Statement from JustLeadershipUSA’s Vice President of Government Affairs and Policy, Will Heaton, Regarding New Data from the Department of Justice on Jail and Prison Populations

May 1, 2019

“The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice recently revealed that at the end of 2017, the U.S. incarceration rate dropped to the lowest point since 1997. In the period between 2007 and 2017, incarceration rates in both prisons and jails decreased by more than 10% while the incarceration rate for people in state and federal prison sentenced to more than a year decreased 13% during the same period. According to analysis of DOJ data by the Sentencing Project, at the current rate of decline, it will take 75 years to cut the prison population by 50%. This analysis makes clear how critically important JustLeadershipUSA’s work and the work of its directly impacted led partner organizations is to cut the corrections population in #halfby2030. The impacted communities JLUSA works with cannot wait 75 years to bring their loved ones home – loved ones that still have lives to live, families to return to, and communities to be a part of – we must bring them home as soon as possible.

Additionally, racial disparities continue to ravage the corrections population. While the incarceration rate decreased for Black adults; disproportionate harms remain.  The incarceration rate for sentenced black men was more than twice the rate for sentenced Latino men and almost six times that for sentenced white men. The rate for sentenced Black women was almost double that for sentenced white women. JLUSA believes that it is possible for advocates and legislators to chart a quicker path toward decarceration than currently outlined in the DOJ report, ensuring not only that people come home, but that the reliance on correctional supervision in our communities comes to an end; and that women, LGBTQ, Black and brown people, and people from disinvested communities – have just outcomes.

Legislation that decarcerates more quickly is possible. In New York, the #FREEnewyork Campaign, led by JLUSA, directly impacted people, and partner organizations across the state, succeeded in passing a package of bail, discovery, and speedy trial legislation aimed at statewide jail decarceration. More than 22,000 people are currently detained in New York’s county jails with a significant majority held pre-trial without having been convicted of a crime.

Together, the three newly passed bills will: eliminate money bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges; require that prosecutors turn over all evidence 15 days after first appearance and prior to any plea deal; and address some of the loopholes that violate New Yorkers’  constitutional right to a speedy trial. Currently in New York City, 43% of the almost 5,000 people detained pretrial would have been released under the new legislation as they would no longer be eligible for either bail or detention. When the legislation is enacted early next year, thousands of people in counties across New York State will benefit.

While these legislative reforms are some of the most progressive in the country, they still leave too many people behind. #FREEnewyork and directly impacted leaders will continue fighting to pass bail reform that ends money bail and protects due process for all people and all charges. While the fight continues in New York State, it is clear that legislation specifically geared towards decarceration is necessary nationwide if we are to cut incarceration in #halfby2030 as opposed to 2094.

JLUSA has prioritized additional reforms that could be replicated to decarcerate cities and states significantly, by attacking local drivers of mass incarceration including: ending crimeless revocations (technical parole violations that re-incarcerate people); and removing barriers to opportunity and basic needs for people living with conviction records.

JustLeadershipUSA believes in order to reduce the number of people under correctional control, criminalization must be addressed head-on and we commend our partners leading this work. We believe that the way forward is to end broken windows policing and low-level charges, gang databases, and other debunked methods of racist criminalization. We must also avoid harmful technology like predictive policing, racist risk assessment instruments and electronic monitoring which extends the carceral state into our communities.

We must focus on racial and gender equity and justice as the outcomes of a justice system that requires complete transformation, centering human lives and human dignity.”

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