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Next Steps: An Agenda for Federal Action on Safety and Justice (2020)

Crime rates in the United States have dropped substantially since their peak in the early 1990s, and, while remaining above historical norms, the nation’s incarceration rate has receded as well. At the federal level, the FIRST STEP Act signed by President Trump and the Smart on Crime initiatives of the Obama Administration have helped bend the curve of imprisonment: after reaching a high of nearly 220,000 in 2013, the federal prison population now stands at 175,000, a drop of 20 percent.

Yet there is broad agreement across the political spectrum that more must be done to make communities safe and guarantee justice—not just by states and localities, where the majority of the criminal justice system operates, but also by the federal government, which runs the country’s largest correctional system and helps set the tone of the national conversation.

Recognizing this growing thirst for strategies that work better and cost less, the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) dedicated its first independent task force to defining an agenda for action at the federal level. Through deliberations spanning the second half of 2019, the Task Force on Federal Priorities worked to craft a consensus view of the actionable, politically viable steps that the federal government can take now and in the near future to produce the greatest improvements in public safety and the administration of justice.

The Task Force was chaired by former congressman and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and included a cross-section of stakeholders representing diverse professional and ideological perspectives: former federal prosecutors and defenders; a former mayor and a veteran police leader; experts in reentry, substance use, and victim rights; and advocates and formerly incarcerated people. Beyond their own experience, members drew on the expertise of well-known authorities in the public safety and health fields and the collective wisdom of some 200 innovators and influencers who provided feedback on draft recommendations at CCJ’s Inaugural Leadership Summit in October 2019.

The Task Force deliberations produced consensus on multiple areas for action by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches—from reducing violence and trauma to sentencing, the functioning of federal prisons, opportunities for release, and support for successful reentry. Reflecting the commitment of Task Force members to bipartisan, data-driven solutions, all of the 15 recommendations are accompanied by an introduction, a set of detailed implementation steps, and annotated citations summarizing the research and evidence that support them.

Taken together, the Task Force proposals provide a roadmap that Congress and the Administration can follow to accelerate our progress toward a justice system that is fair and effective for all Americans.

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