July 19, 2022
House Appropriations Committee
Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee
2358-B Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6024
Dear Mr. Steigleder,
All people have a basic desire to feel safe and to be safe in their communities—safe not only from violence and physical harm, but also from being profiled, targeted, or prosecuted based on their identities and life circumstances. And yet, too many U.S. communities lack this security. And too often, the “safety” investments that policymakers prioritize leave many people feeling less safe in their own communities—especially Black, Brown, and low-income communities, as well as those people who are experiencing substance use and mental health issues.
Our community of criminal-legal advocates, grassroots organizations, and allies believes that a different way forward is both possible and urgently needed. We support approaching safety through a public health lens—while making bold, life-affirming investments to address violence and harm before they happen. We support interdisciplinary investments that tackle the underlying causes of violence and harm (“social determinants of safety”), such as inadequate access to food, shelter, physical and mental healthcare, safe and supportive schools, a clean environment, and more. We support channeling these investments through community-led and health-focused institutions that operate fully outside of the criminal-legal system. And, in the FY23 budget, we specifically support increased funding for non-carceral crisis response programs.
Non-carceral crisis response programs are an underutilized resource in the fight to protect our communities from violence and harm. These programs bring together teams of behavioral healthcare workers—including counselors, substance use professionals, and others trained to de- escalate mental health crises, to answer 911 and 988 calls where appropriate.
Programs of this kind, like the decades-old CAHOOTs program in Oregon, are backed by high- quality research that has shown their efficacy over our traditional crisis response models. Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program, which launched in 2020, has responded to 2,294 calls for service that would have otherwise been dispatched to police—and have never once had to solicit police backup because they encountered a safety issue. This reduces the time that police must spend addressing these public health issues. And, most importantly, it saves thousands of lives that are otherwise lost when police officers respond to situations far outside of their expertise. People in crisis need a helping hand, not a gun, to help them succeed and access the resources that they need.
Ultimately, we must embrace a new paradigm for public safety that prevents violence, harm, and crises before they happen, rather than addressing these issues when our interventions are far too late. Non-carceral crisis response is only one step in this direction—we need a bold agenda that determines the root issues causing people to be unsafe, then invests robustly in community supports that address these needs. But crisis response is a critical first step, and it is one that our organizations wholeheartedly support. We urge you to affirm the amendment being offered by Rep. Cori Bush, Rep. Smith, and dozens of other Members of Congress and to expand non- carceral crisis response funding to the maximum degree possible. We applaud the Appropriations Committee’s recognition of the importance of this issue as seen in the initial awarding of $60 million for FY 23—a significant improvement over the $10 million that was awarded in Fiscal Year 2022. However, every community needs access to life saving services such as mobile mental health units, peer supports, and respite centers, all critical to ending our over reliance upon jails and emergency rooms to provide mental health support. Indeed, more Members than ever have requested Community Project Funding for crisis response teams; an additional $10 million is urgently needed to meet this evident interest.
Please let us know if you have any questions. And if you would like to discuss this letter, non- carceral community safety, or anything else, please do not hesitate to contact Thea Sebastian (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Chloe White (email@example.com).
Thea Sebastian, Policy Director, Civil Rights Corps
Sakira Cook, Co-Interim Vice President, Color of Change
Chloe White, Policy Counsel, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Carlean Ponder, The Arc of the U.S., Director of Disability Rights and Housing Policy
Ali Bloomgarden, Advocacy Associate, Partners in Health
Judy Greene, Director, Justice Strategies
Olivia Ensign, Senior Advocate, Human Rights Watch
Jason Kimelman-Block, Washington Director, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action
Arvin Alaigh, Campaign Manager, MoveOn
Carl Redwood, Project Director, Pittsburgh Black Worker Center
Maxx Boykin, Black Treatment Advocates Network
Monifa Bandele, Chief Strategy Officer, Moms Rising
Yohana Beyene, BREATHE Coordinator, Movement for Black Lives