Senate Dems propose incentives to reduce state prison populations

Senate Dems propose incentives to reduce state prison populations

Senate Democrats unveiled a proposal Wednesday to push back against Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSentencing reform deal heats up, pitting Trump against reliable allies Hill.TV poll: 41 percent of Americans want Mueller to wrap up probe before midterms The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) MORE's "tough on crime" policies. 

Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) introduced the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 to incentivize states through grant funding to decrease their prison populations.

It's intended to counter the 1994 Crime Bill, otherwise known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

That law authorized $12.5 billion in grants to fund or offset the costs of incarceration, nearly 50 percent of which was earmarked for states that adopted tough “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which required offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

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Critics say that law led to a boom in incarceration.

The Booker-Blumenthal bill provides $20 billion in grant funding to be divvied up every three years among eligible states. States would only be considered eligible to apply if the total number of people in correctional or detention facilities in the state decreased by 7 percent or more in that three-year period. States must also keep crime rates from increasing by more than 3 percent.

The proposal is estimated to reduce the national prison population by 20 percent over 10 years.

“State sentencing policies are the major drivers of skyrocketing incarceration rates, which is why we’ve introduced legislation to encourage change at the state level,” Booker said in a statement.

“We need to change federal incentives so that we reward states that are addressing this crisis and improving community safety, instead of funneling more federal dollars into a broken system.”

The idea is based on a 2015 proposal from the Brennan Center for Justice.

“The federal government has a long history of dangling money in front of state and local leaders to spur policy changes,” program Director Inimai Chettiar said in a statement.

“We saw it with the 1994 Crime Bill, which helped put more people behind bars. This bold bill shifts the current flow of funding in the opposite direction. It is one of the single biggest steps we can take to reduce imprisonment.”

The legislation comes a little over a month after the Trump administration reversed an Obama-era directive aimed at easing mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Sessions directed federal prosecutors across the country to charge defendants with the most serious crimes possible.