REPORT: $850 Million in U.S. Justice Department COVID Funds Can Go to Violence Prevention, Crime Victim & Reentry Programs to Secure Health & Safety of Communities


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Strained during Pandemic, Safety Solutions outside of Justice System Can Be Boosted with Millions in New Emergency Stimulus Funding

A new report finds that $850 million of federal stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), being sent to states in response to the pandemic, can be used to support community-serving programs. The report recommends an innovative approach to public safety that allocates the DOJ Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) funds beyond law enforcement and justice system agencies. BJA funds are traditionally spent by states on these law enforcement and justice system entities, including for policing and justice system equipment.


The report, from the Alliance for Safety and Justice and the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University, explains how the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program (CESF) could help alleviate rising demand and funding shortages faced by community-serving organizations. It illustrates how the funds could especially be used to support the successful reentry of people exiting correctional facilities—the tens of thousands who typically exit the system every day before COVID-19 and the increased number who have been more rapidly released from jails and prisons to stop the virus’ spread. Programs to support crime victims, including victims of community and domestic violence, and programs that focus on violence prevention could also be supported with the funding.


These providers that people in communities rely on for health and safety, especially during a crisis, are among many community-serving programs that have faced rising strains amid increased needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Four in five community-serving programs surveyed by the Alliance for Safety and Justice report increased need and a diminished ability to respond, mainly because of a lack of financial and government support.


“Since the pandemic began, communities that experience the most significant health and safety challenges have been hardest hit, while the community providers they rely on struggle with inadequate support,” said Robert Rooks, CEO of Alliance for Safety and Justice. “The organizations that operate crime victim, reentry and violence-prevention programs are on the frontlines to meet an increased need, but support for them is imperative. We need to prioritize the use of these stimulus funds to ensure that people returning to communities, and victims of community and domestic violence, have the tools they need to be safe. By investing in smart safety solutions now, we can take great strides toward helping communities emerge from the pandemic and access safety.”


About 630,000 people are released from prison every year, and about 6.7 million people are released from jail. This means that, on any given day, 20,000 people are released from correctional custody.


In addition to regularly scheduled releases, correctional systems are releasing people from prison or jail to lower their population density and keep everyone touched by the system safe. Local governments have reduced their average daily jail populations by as much as 50 percent. In California alone, the number of people who were released from prison from January through April this year increased by 50 percent compared with the same period a year ago.


Meanwhile, people being released from prisons and jails are returning to communities in which supportive services have been shut down or overburdened. A recent survey found that 75 percent of reentry-service providers have stopped providing some services or closed operations since the onset of the pandemic.


“Effective reentry partnerships with community partners are crucial right now,” said Gary Mohr, President of the American Correctional Association, who formerly served as the Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. “The entire continuum needs to ensure that people return safely and productively to their communities while curtailing the spread of the coronavirus.”


An $850 million appropriation from the Bureau of Justice Assistance can help the response to the new reentry challenges, the report explains. In light of COVID-19, these federal funds can be used to address key reentry needs, including access to health care and medicine; temporary rooms for quarantine, and longer-term housing options; technology and Wi-Fi access for providers to facilitate case-management services; and basic tools and supplies for people returning to the community—such as toiletries, masks, hand sanitizer, soap, disinfectants, and food to reduce contact with food banks.


In addition, the report explains that the Justice Department dollars can be used to support crime victims with similar resources. Even prior to COVID-19, the report states, the justice system faced challenges meeting victims’ needs, with only about one in nine victims of a violent crime reporting receiving any services from a victim-services agency, and two out of three victims reporting they received no help following the incident. An estimated 63 million people were victims of a crime in the United States in the last ten years, and half were the victim of a violent crime.


“State leaders can use these Justice Department dollars to revise, revamp, and renew relationships with community-serving programs and address gaps,” said Angela Hawken, Director of the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management. “By including community-serving programs in state plans to use these funds, we can meet the demands of this moment.”


About Alliance for Safety and Justice


The Alliance for Safety and Justice is a national organization that aims to win new safety priorities in states across the country. It partners with leaders to advance state reform through networking, coalition building, research, education and advocacy. It also brings together diverse crime survivors to advance policies that help communities most harmed by crime and violence, as part of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice – its national network of over 42,000 crime survivors.


About NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management


The Litmus Program at NYU’s Marron Institute of Urban Management is dedicated to innovation and progress in the public sector.