For most, the need for policy change is nested within a broader vision, of a government and society that invests in health, education, and wealth—not just criminalization and incarceration. Many communities are demanding a re-evaluation of our investment priorities.
The United States has invested trillions in policing, jails, and military-grade weapons for domestic law enforcement. We spend $100 billion annually on policing alone, despite a steady and dramatic decline in crime rates. More spending on policing and incarceration leaves fewer resources for other investments that support safe and strong communities. This pattern exists across the country at every level of government. Nationally, state spending on higher education rose by less than 6% between 1986 and 2013, but corrections spending jumped by 141%.
This disparity reflects an investment choice of public money by those in power. Neighborhoods that are afflicted most by aggressive policing and high incarceration rates also have high levels of poverty, unemployment, and racial segregation. In many urban neighborhoods, where millions of dollars are spent to lock up residents, the education infrastructure and larger social net are completely crippled.
The declaration that Black lives matter is a call to action for governmental officials and policy makers. Budgets are an articulation of who and what we choose to invest in. Policy makers should direct funds to true community‐based efforts, prevention, intervention, treatment, education, and other programs that have been shown to promote healthier and stronger communities. Reinvestment can happen at the local, state and federal level. At the local level it requires an evaluation of the city or county budget—which can easily be accessed on official government websites. Many cities invest disproportionately in policing and incarceration. Instead, cities should invest in programs that provide opportunity and stability to neighborhoods that have been ravaged by the criminal justice system.
Studies show that jobs and education do not just make communities stronger—they make them safer. Investments in community based drug and mental health treatment, education, universal Pre-K, and other social institutions can make communities safer while improving life outcomes for all. Some examples of alternative funding supported by communities include: community based alternatives to incarceration, restorative justice practices, community based drug-treatment, transportation improvements, health services for the mentally ill, access to housing for the homeless and summer job programs for youth.
Because cities and counties have limited funds, an investment strategy at the local level may require a re-allocation of funds from oversized and overtasked police departments into areas that we know will make us safer and will mean that we need less police in the long run.