New Jersey — and other states — can invest in proven, community-based approaches to public safety through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. By shifting away from law enforcement-based approaches to issues of mental health, substance abuse, school safety, and traffic safety, states can achieve better outcomes for everyone.
Decades of punitive policy making have made the United States one of the most incarcerated countries in the world, while ballooning police and corrections spending, even amid declines in violent and property crime rates.
The ARP is an unprecedented opportunity to invest in programs that will increase public health and safety while decreasing the need for police intervention. Signed into law in March 2021, the $1.9 trillion package offers flexibility for state and local governments to fund a wide range of programs that can be catered to the unique needs of communities.
States can address racial and other inequities in the criminal legal system, reducing unnecessary police stops that too often result in arrests and incarceration, and reducing acts of police violence, which disproportionately harm people of color and communities that have been pushed behind by decades of exclusionary policies.
New Jersey, specifically, has some of the worst Black-white disparities in police use of force and incarceration in the country. The state also prioritizes investments in law enforcement, which outpace investments in health and human services, as outlined in the NJPP report released earlier this year, To Protect and Serve: Investing In Public Safety Beyond Policing.
We can create safer communities, lower police violence, and reduce arrests, incarceration, and related costs by investing ARP funds in:
- Mental health: The ARP’s additional Medicaid resources and $3 billion in funding for mental health and substance use disorders can help states prevent related arrests and incarceration. Many communities send police instead of health care professionals to respond to mental health crises or drug-related cases, which disproportionately harm people of color. Nationwide, approximately 10 percent of police contacts involve individuals with mental health needs, and 23 percent of people killed by police have a mental health need.
- Education: School districts and state education departments can use the ARP’s $122 billion in mostly flexible education funds to replace school police with alternative interventions for students. Positive behavioral supports, trauma-informed training for staff, and restorative justice can reduce involvement in the criminal legal system, especially for students of color.
- Housing: States can use the ARP’s targeted housing funds to prevent evictions, increase affordable housing, and reduce homelessness — all of which contribute to lower crime and stronger communities.
- Traffic safety: State and local governments can use ARP funds to create new non-police units that focus on traffic safety instead of traffic enforcement, reducing the most common police interaction with the public, which disproportionately targets people of color.
- Other interventions: States and localities can use federal funding to invest in violence interrupters and crisis response teams, which respond to crises with mental health professionals rather than armed police officers. Other interventions also include out-of-school programs, nutrition assistance, job training, and subsidized jobs. All of these investments have been shown to reduce crime.
For more information, read the new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Using Federal Relief Funds to Invest in Non-Police Approaches to Public Safety.