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July 18, 2023

Pressley, Bush, Colleagues Reintroduce Groundbreaking Community Safety Legislation

Bill Summary (PDF) | Bill Text (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), alongside Representatives Cori Bush (MO-01), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Morgan McGarvey (KY-03), Summer Lee (PA-12), and Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), reintroduced the People’s Response Act, groundbreaking legislation that would advance an inclusive, holistic, and health-centered approach to public safety by creating a public safety division within the United States Department of Human Health and Services — because communities and experts agree that public safety is a matter of public health. 

“It’s time our approach to public safety center care, justice, and healing instead of the criminalization, surveillance, and incarceration that has plagued Black and brown communities for far too long,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “That means investing in trauma-informed, community-based responses that truly keep people safe. I am proud to reintroduce this bill alongside my sister-in-service Congresswoman Bush and colleagues as we work towards the just criminal legal system that our communities demand and deserve.”

“Our country is failing to keep our communities safe. We see time and time again, that our country’s allegiance to mass incarceration does not work. We have long needed to transform our approach to community safety, by investing in the health and well-being of all our communities,” said Congresswoman Bush. “That’s why I’m proud to be reintroducing the People’s Response Act alongside my colleagues; far from being a standalone piece of legislation, the PRA is a central component of an affirmative vision of community safety that will undoubtedly save lives. I look forward to working with my colleagues, advocates, and all people who value public safety to enact this landmark legislation.”

“Public safety means protecting our most vulnerable groups, but for far too long, our country’s response has been to over criminalize and target Black and brown communities in the process,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “The People’s Response Act takes a new approach, using the lens of public health to solve issues like substance abuse and mental health crises to keep our neighborhoods safe. It’s time to invest in real solutions that will support local governments, improve crisis response, and make our communities safer and healthier for everyone.”

“We must keep our people and our communities safe. We know, from years of data and best practices, this means providing resources in addition to law enforcement,” said Congressman McGarvey. “The People’s Response Act puts much-needed resources behind public safety initiatives that prioritize care and treatment for people in crisis. If someone is overdosing or experiencing a mental health emergency, sending a substance use counselor or other first responder would better address the needs of the individual while mitigating escalation and reducing recidivism. This legislation would save lives in my district, Louisville, Kentucky, and across the country; it is a step towards a 21st century model which ensures all communities are safe and protected. I’m proud to stand with Rep. Bush and my colleagues in introducing the People’s Response Act, and am thankful to all the advocates who are pushing for accountability, justice, and change.”

“We have seen decades of failed criminalization and failed ‘public safety measures.’ It is well past time we take a public health approach to public safety. I am proud to join my colleagues in reintroducing the People’s Response Act.  We must move beyond punishment and invest more in health, education, housing, and the other things that people truly need to thrive,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky. “Our legislation will help devote necessary resources to address rising levels of mental illness, drug addiction, and homelessness. What type of message are we sending by criminalizing and incarcerating those who simply need care? Americans are counting on us to keep them safe, and we must deliver with this piece of legislation.”

A copy of this legislation can be found HERE. A copy of this one-pager can be found HERE.

Specifically, this legislation would:

  • create a Division on Community Safety within HHS to fund, conduct, and coordinate research, technical assistance, and grant programs related to non-carceral, health-centered investments in public safety;
  • launch a federal first responders unit to support states and local governments with emergency health crises;
  • promote alternative approaches to public safety, including coordination of research and policies that are being implemented across HHS and other agencies to center health-based and non-carceral responses throughout the federal government;
  • provide $11 billion in grant funding to state and local governments, as well as community-based organizations, to fully fund public safety and improve crisis response; and
  • establish a $2.5 billion First Responder Hiring Grant to create thousands of jobs and provide funding to state, local, and tribal governments, as well as community organizations, to hire emergency first responders such as licensed social workers, mental health counselors, substance use counselors, and peer support specialists, in an effort to improve crisis response and increase non-carceral, health-based approaches to public safety.

Additional co-sponsors of this legislation include Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Raul Grijalva (AZ-07), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (CA-37), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Adam Smith (WA-09), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), and Nikema Williams (GA-05).

The People’s Response Act is endorsed by American Friends Service Committee, A Bella LaFemme Society, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Berkeley Free Clinic, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for Policing Equity, Civil Rights Corps, Color of Change, Elephant Circle, Equal Justice USA, Human Rights Watch, Illinois Alliance for Reentry & Justice, Justice Strategies, March for our Lives, MomsRising, Movement for Black Lives, National Council of Jewish Women, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Newtown Action Alliance, Partners in Health, Public Justice Center, Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Washington Defender Association.

“For years, advocates and experts have expressed a need to reimagine safety — to enact policies that prevent violence and harm before they happen, addressing the root needs of people and communities. Finally, this quest to reimagine safety has a linchpin and a bill number. The People’s Response Act is more than a bill; it’s a paradigm shift toward treating safety as the public health issue that it truly is,” said Thea Sebastian, Director of Policy, Civil Rights Corps.

“The People’s Response Act advances innovative, health-based strategies that will create and ensure public safety,” said Laura Pitter, Deputy Director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “The largely punitive, carceral policies of the last several decades have failed. It’s time for this new approach based on what communities want and need. We fully support its passage.”

“Instead of punishment, we need prevention. But our current system largely responds to acts of violence rather than intervening long before someone even considers harming someone else,” said Elena Perez, Senior Policy Associate, March For Our Lives. “The People’s Response Act does just that by offering funding to build systems of care that stop violence before it happens. It’s a holistic, public health approach to the epidemic of gun violence and will make our communities safer. March For Our Lives is proud to support this commonsense legislation that will transform what safety looks like in our neighborhoods.”

“Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation has been working to end state-sanctioned and vigilante violence against Black people and eradicate white supremacy for 10 years now. A big part of this fight is through policy changes — and the People’s Response Act is one that helps to challenge the current violent and punishment-centered approach to public safety, which we know disproportionately impacts Black people,” said Shalomyah Bowers, BLMGNF Board Member.

“Bend the Arc: Jewish Action is proud to support the People’s Response Act—ambitious and achievable legislation that would deliver the health-centered programs our communities need,” said Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, Washington​ Director​, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action. “It’s time to stop pouring our tax dollars into harmful enforcement-based systems that are rooted in white supremacy and don’t deliver real safety for all of us. It’s time to fund the programs that will actually support the safety of Black, brown, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQ, and disabled people, including Jews who live at many identity intersections. It’s time to pass the People’s Response Act.”

“Our communities deserve to be safe, and every individual, regardless of their race or background, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. The People’s Response Act is a bold and necessary piece of legislation to fund programs necessary to improve public safety and our communities broadly. A public health response forward approach to public safety is the only way to ensure Black and Brown people are treated equally in the pursuit of safety for all,” said Charlotte Resing, Government Affairs Manager, Center for Policing Equity.

“The current approach to public safety is not working for children, for families, and particularly for Black and brown communities that have been devastated by mental health crises, substance use health crises, and criminalization. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for Congress to step up and support new inclusive, holistic, and health-centered approaches to dealing with crises that will reduce harm and truly keep our communities safe. We must reimagine our public safety system’s instinct to criminalize and replace it with an instinct to be thoughtful, strategic, and rooted in providing appropriate care and response. We have an important opportunity to do that with the introduction of the The People’s Response Act,” said Monifa Bandele, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, Moms Rising.

“Over one million Americans have been shot since the Sandy Hook tragedy. Gun violence is a devastating public health crisis and the People’s Response Act will help to save lives and support gun violence survivors no matter the zip code or the color of our skin. It’s time for Congress to make gun violence a true priority by passing the People’s Response Act,” said Po Murray, Chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance.

“Our approach to public safety has failed to translate to safe communities for all regardless of zipcode. The People’s Response Act sets forth approaches that have increased public safety in communities disproportionately targeted for criminalization and divestment. We applaud the approaches to public safety being put forth by the People’s Response Act and strongly urge its passage,” said Avalon Betts-Gaston, Project Manager, Illinois Alliance for Reentry & Justice.

“As catalysts for the most vulnerable communities, we remain committed to Congresswoman Bush and The People’s Response Act’s supporters. Black and Brown communities are disproportionately affected by the legal system due to racial bias. We must implement holistic restorative approaches that will address the root causes,” said Laketa M. Smith, Executive Director & Founder of A Bella LaFemme Society.

Rep. Pressley has been an outspoken advocate for community-based, trauma-informed public safety responses, and her legislation with Rep. Bush is informed by her People’s Justice Guarantee, a comprehensive, decarceration-focused resolution that outlines a framework for a fair, equitable and just legal system.