Armstrong, Trone Re-Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Reduce Jail Incarceration

August 13, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today Congressmen Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) and David Trone (D-MD) announced they will reintroduce the Community First Pretrial Reform and Jail Decarceration Act, which will create a Department of Justice grant program to incentivize local governments and community partners to invest in programs and policies that reduce jail populations, and the number of days individuals spend in jail.

While large cities are making strides to reduce the number of people entering jails and prisons, rural counties and small and mid-size cities are experiencing a staggering increase in their jail populations. Incarceration rates in urban areas have declined by 22 percent since 2013 but have grown by 27% in rural counties and 7% in small and mid-sized cities over that same time. Additionally, these smaller communities are often left out of other federal grant programs aimed at reducing incarceration.

One of the leading factors driving the increase in incarceration rates is the expanded use of pretrial detention. Approximately two-thirds of people held in American jails are there awaiting trial and have been convicted of no crime. Even short stays in jail pretrial can have devastating consequences, such as job loss, loss of the custody of one’s children, and an increased likelihood of being convicted, receiving a harsh sentence, and involvement in the criminal justice system again in the future. 

The Community First Pretrial Reform and Jail Decarceration Act will put communities at the center of decisions about public priorities and efforts to reduce jail incarceration with the goal of cutting jail populations in these communities by 50%. It will authorize $600 million in grants for local governments to develop and implement a strategic plan to decrease local jail incarceration. Grants could be used by communities to establish policies and programs to reduce pretrial incarceration rates including the elimination of cash bail, creating diversion programs, access to counsel, and other innovative and non-coercive decarceration efforts.

“A significant portion of incarcerated individuals in local jails are held in pretrial detention,” said Congressman Armstrong. “I am proud to work with Congressman Trone to make resources available for communities and local governments that empower them to make public safety decisions and reduce jail populations. Our bill will help reduce incarceration rates, lower recidivism, and keep communities safe by implementing commonsense bipartisan criminal justice reforms.”

“It's no secret that our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform, especially when it comes to addressing the mass incarceration rate,” said Congressman David Trone. “This legislation allows us to invest in more programs and policies aimed at reducing the number of people in prison and helps us develop solutions that will address the impact to individuals of time spent in jail pretrial. It is unconscionable that Americans face legal and heartbreaking personal ramifications before a trial even takes place. I want to thank Congressman Armstrong and the Vera Institute for partnering with me on this bipartisan legislation. Together we are working towards creating a justice system that is truly just.

“This bipartisan legislation is a critical step in reaching our common goals of reducing racial disparities in the legal system and turning the tide on mass incarceration,” said Kanya Bennett, Senior Policy Counsel & Legislative Coalition Manager at The Bail Project. “As our work at The Bail Project demonstrates, a community-based model of pretrial support that focuses on addressing people’s needs is a viable alternative to cash bail and incarceration. By putting communities first, this legislation creates a powerful framework to help states move in this direction — away from incarceration and toward investments that address poverty and other root causes of crime.”

“The Community First Act represents a bipartisan effort to end mass incarceration and mass criminalization in small towns and rural communities by directing federal dollars toward funding community-led decarceration and reinvestment that will support families, reduce the fiscal and social costs of incarceration, and promote true community safety,” said Jasmine Heiss, the Director of the In Our Backyards Initiative at the Vera Institute of Justice. “This is an opportunity to stop prioritizing rural communities for bigger jails and prisons, and ensure that everyone is part of the work to transform local justice systems. We applaud Congressman Trone and Congressman Armstrong for providing the federal leadership needed to reverse the decades-long focus on jail-building at the expense of community-building.”

To read bill text, click here

To read a bill summary, click here.

The list of organizations that have endorsed the Community First Pretrial Reform and Jail Decarceration Act can be found here.