This week we reflect on the impact of the First Step Act five years in, with Thomas Hanna, communications manager, and Evan Mintz, communications director, as well as what could come next.
Five years ago, Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass a groundbreaking piece of criminal justice reform – the First Step Act. And the story of that cross-partisan cooperation remains a model of how Washington should work.
At its core, the First Step Act aimed to address the systemic imbalances in the criminal justice system. Among other reforms, by reducing mandatory minimum sentences in low-risk, non-violent cases, the act not only sought to correct disproportionate sentencing but also provided a glimmer of hope to thousands of inmates serving unduly long sentences. These changes, though admittedly a 'first step', have sparked a transformation in how justice is administered in America, and upended the narrative about how partisanship makes compromise seemingly impossible.
The bill itself has been a remarkable success. Between 2020 and 2022, just under 30,000 people were released from prison due to the law. According to a recent study, the recidivism rate for this group of people was just 12.4%, which is significantly lower than people released from federal prison before the First Step Act. In other words, the law is doing what its supporters anticipated, allowing people to leave prison and rejoin their families and communities while at the same time preserving community safety.
Arnold Ventures and Puck News hosted a five-year anniversary celebration this week for the historic piece of bipartisan legislation. The event included a who’s who of lawmakers and activists involved in the law’s passage, including remarks from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and former Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), as well as CNN host and civil rights supporter Van Jones, who advocated for the act, and Matthew Charles, one of the first people released from prison by the law.
“You made the country safer,” Kevin Ring, vice president of advocacy at Arnold Ventures, said in his heartfelt thanks to the crowd. “You made the justice system fairer. You restored families and restored lives."
Still, there are more steps to be taken. Almost since the moment that the First Step Act was signed, there has been conversation about a Second Step that would expand sentencing reforms to even more cases.
As Van Jones noted at the event, we need to embolden people to think differently about what is and isn’t possible. After all, bipartisan criminal justice reform seemed unlikely in 2018, too.
Arnold Ventures has released a new research RFP, which seeks to fund innovative casual research related to all aspects of community safety and the criminal justice system.
What's Happening: Arnold Ventures’ criminal justice program has released a major new request for proposals (RFP) titled “Causal Research on Community Safety and the Criminal Justice System.” The RFP seeks research proposals across all issues related to the criminal justice system and will remain open indefinitely. Submissions must meet certain criteria, including a strong causal research design. Priority will be given to younger scholars and those who have not received funding from AV before.
Why It Matters: Often, funders focus on either narrow parts of a problem or traditional policy solutions. However, community safety and criminal justice are complex and interconnected issues. This RFP is an attempt to think beyond traditional policy silos and potentially develop new and innovative solutions that aren’t yet on our radar. Additionally, the focus on causal research will help us to identify and scale effective solutions as quickly as possible.
What’s Next: Interested researchers are encouraged to submit a short letter of interest (LOI), which will then be reviewed internally and externally. Following this review process, certain applicants will be invited to submit full proposals.
A lack of accountability in higher education means that far too many students are left with unaffordable debt, and taxpayers are left holding the bag for unscrupulous or low-value institutions and programs. AV’s new research agenda aims to find solutions to this problem at the state level.
What’s Happening: States are beginning to use policies such as outcomes-based funding (OBF) to drive improvements in outcomes for students and taxpayers. While there’s a growing body of research around OBF, little is known about what else states and education systems are doing to increase return on investment, the opportunities that exist, and how best to drive improvements in outcomes for students and taxpayers.
Why It Matters: About 40 percent of students don’t earn a degree within six years, and many end up in low-paying jobs with crippling debt. Properly structured and implemented policies can help improve the educational return on investment.
What’s Next: By supporting studies on outcomes-based funding and exploratory policy research at the state and system level, Arnold Ventures hopes to grow the body of evidence that policymakers can use to improve the return on investment for students and taxpayers alike.
The number of accelerated approvals granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to date that have incomplete confirmatory trials.
Accelerated approval was created 30 years ago to speed to market drugs and biologics that treat serious conditions and fill an unmet need – but the system needs reform.
Unfortunately, far too many accelerated approval treatments have been allowed to stay on the market without timely completion of confirmatory trials. This lack of clinical evidence puts patient wellbeing at risk and can have taxpayers subsidizing medical treatments that don’t work.
The Food and Drug Omnibus Reform Act (FDORA) of 2022 ushered in important first steps towards reforming the accelerated approval pathway, but further congressional and FDA action is still needed.
A new study from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) shows that nearly half of all states still restrict people with a past drug felony from receiving public benefits.
NOLA.com reports on how an AV-supported, state-commissioned report recommended adoption of standards to ensure safe and healthy living conditions for jail inmates and accountability for employees who engage in abuse.
The Guardian covers a new study showing that deaths of incarcerated people in the U.S. spiked 77% between 2019 and 2020, primarily due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an op-ed for The New York Times, Jeff Asher, co-founder of AH Datalytics, writes about how police clearance rates (the rates of crimes leading to an arrest) have fallen in recent years and are now at their lowest levels in 60 years. (free link)
A new op-ed in Townhall calls on Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that “rebukes hospitals’ price gouging with legislation to expand ‘site-neutral payments’ in the Medicare program.”
Amassing lucrative patents to block competitors is one strategy used by brand-name drug companies employ to extend monopolistic pricing power. I-MAK’s new blueprint for policymakers outlines approaches to address 'patent thickets,' improve competition, and lower drug prices.
NPR's Nina Totenberg covers the angles of the Supreme Court's Moore v. United Stateshearing this week, after conversations with Arnold Ventures' Executive Vice President of Public Finance George Callas.
Curious about the stats on student loan defaults? Newly released data from the Department of Education shows that most defaulted student borrowers in September 2021 were Pell grant recipients, those who hadn’t completed their academic program, and were disproportionately over the age of 50.
A new report from AV grantee Justin Ortagus found that enrolling in an exclusively online degree program – especially for-profit, four-year programs – has a negative influence on students’ likelihood of completion.
A comprehensive report from the National Student Clearinghouse finds that the six-year college completion rates have held steady at 62.2 percent, essentially unchanged since 2015.
In Slow Boring, Matt Yglesias writes about how federal rules stand in the way of a manufactured housing boom.
PBS covers how new California rules slashed the value of rooftop generated electricity and are crushing the solar industry.
Meanwhile, AI-powered permitting is speeding up solar deployments in California, Canary Media reports.
What We're Watching
On "Last Week Tonight," John Oliver jabs daggers dipped in comedy at the organ donation and transplantation system in the United States, calling for reform. While there's overwhelming popularity for the idea of organ donation, the system is seriously flawed, leaving over 100,000 people on the waiting list for an organ transplant, and on average 17 people dead each day waiting for one. Oliver explains what's happening and where it could change.
What We're Listening To
On "The Hearing: A Legal Podcast" from Thompson Reuters, host Lauren Sobel talks with Laura Arnold about what makes Arnold Ventures unique in the philanthropic world, including its structure and its evidence-based approach to philanthropy, as well as how the Arnolds began their journey as philanthropists.
A new episode of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) "Across the Aisle" podcast focuses on the organization’s “Legislator Police Academy,” a yearlong project that brought a bipartisan group of legislators together to discuss and address issues related to policing and police accountability.
Save the Date
On Tuesday, January 16, 2024, from 12 to 1:30 p.m., the Niskanen Center will host the first in a series of criminal justice-focused lunch conversations. At this event, Kevin Ring, vice president of criminal justice advocacy at Arnold Ventures, will moderate a discussion with Greg Berman, distinguished fellow of practice at the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and coeditor of Vital City, and Aubrey Fox, executive director of the New York City Criminal Justice Agency. They cowrote Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age. RSVP here.
“When the Federal Reserve mentions you as the reason economic growth is up, that’s a big deal,” said Ed Tiryakian, a finance professor at Duke University. Time Magazine's Person of the Year might be a surprise to you (or possibly not!).
The late Norman Lear broke several barriers in television, using comedy as a way to bring social commentary to TV. He made some of the most popular shows of their era, and also one of the weirdest to ever air on prime time: "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."
We're Seeking Proposals
The Criminal Justice team at Arnold Ventures is supporting a new Social Science Research Council fellowship program. This program will provide generous and unrestricted support to postdoctoral fellows working to innovate and evaluate more effective and equitable criminal justice policy solutions. The application deadline is January 15, 2024.
The Higher Education and Evidence-Based Policy teams have created a request for proposals for rigorous impact evaluations of programs and practices (“interventions”) to promote college success in the United States.
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