The Department of Justice (DOJ) has put forth new legislation and reforms to increase the use of prisoner reentry and good time credit programs to reduce recidivism and improve public safety, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said at the recent National District Attorneys Association summer conference.
According to Breuer, the country experienced an exponential increase in the number of violent crimes between 1960 and 1992, from approximately 288,000 to more than 1.9 million, followed by a dramatic decrease in crimes during the last 20 years. At the same time, state, local and federal justice spending increased dramatically and the country implemented various justice reforms, including increasing police numbers, fighting to reduce drug use and drunk driving and honing recidivism and prisoner reentry initiatives.
“The net result of these reforms and investments has been a steep decline in violent crime across the country – essentially the opposite of what occurred in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s,” Breuer said. “These achievements – for which, as a nation, we can, and should, all take credit – are nothing short of spectacular.”
Currently, however, the Justice Department is facing a general hiring freeze and significant budget cuts, he said, while the number of federal prisoners and detention spending has continued to increase, resulting in prison and detention spending eating away at the budgets of over criminal justice programs and an overcrowding problem in many federal prison systems. High-security facilities now face 53 percent overcrowding, while medium-security facilities are experiencing 49 percent overcrowding, according to Breuer.
“The combination of flat budgets, and ever increasing prison and detention spending, is at odds with achieving further gains in our nation’s crime-fighting efforts,” said Breuer. “Prisons are essential for public safety. They must be safe and secure, and we must maintain our capacity to imprison those who commit crimes.”
To combat these problems, DOJ has recently put forward two legislative proposals, the Federal Prisoner Recidivism Reduction Programming Enhancement Act and the Federal Prisoner Good Conduct Time Act, to implement prisoner reentry and good time credit incentives, which will help improve public safety and decrease prison costs, Breuer said.
“As a country, we have made enormous gains fighting violent crime over the past 20 years – unprecedented gains,” Breuer said. “But, in an era of declining public safety budgets, we are forced to come up with new solutions to the existing crime problem. That is a challenge we will all face in the years ahead.”