June 28, 2021

Congresswoman Cori Bush Introduces the People’s Response Act - Bold Legislation to Transform Public Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01) was joined by Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) in leading the introduction of monumental legislation to transform our country’s approach to public safety. The People’s Response Act, co-sponsored by 20 members and endorsed by over 70 organizations, advances an inclusive, holistic, and health-centered approach to public safety by creating a public safety division within the Department of Human Health and Services — because communities and experts agree that public safety is a matter of public health. 

“Public safety is a public health issue. It’s time our approach reflects that,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush. “The People’s Response Act will transform public safety into a system of care rather than criminalization, healing rather than incarceration, and prevention rather than policing. We are safer when our communities are well funded, our people are healthy and housed, and our children have nutritious meals, excellent schools, and green spaces to play in. 

“Our communities deserve a better response to mental health and substance use crises — which is why this new Division would be tasked with creating a trauma-informed federal response unit that can be deployed to communities to support state and local governments in responding to emergency situations, substance use, and mental health crises.

“Our communities deserve a just response to years of disinvestment in our communities that have led to poor health outcomes and crime. We’re making it clear that justice is about investing in the resources our communities need. The People’s Response Act will create grant funding for the grassroots and community organizations that are doing the work to address housing, health care, economic injustice, and other inequities in our society.

“Our communities deserve a new response because the old approaches have been tried and tried again — only to continue failing our communities. The People’s Response Act creates a new agency, the Division of Community Safety, within the Department of Health and Human Services to research and fund alternatives to incarceration and policing that will save lives in our communities.

“Following a summer of protests to save Black lives, elected officials have a duty to respond to the demands of the people. Across the country, millions mobilized to demand that we transform our system of public safety to build a future where Black, brown, Indigenous, and marginalized communities can live full and joyous lives. The House of Representatives is the People’s House and we need the people’s response to this moment. We need the People’s Response Act.”

The People’s Response Act would: 

  • Create a new public safety division within the Department of Health and Human Services to fund and coordinate research, technical assistance, and grant programs related to non-carceral, health-centered investments in public safety;
  • Launch a federal first responders unit that will support states and local governments with emergency health crises;
  • Research 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 $7.5 billion in grant funding to state and local governments, as well as community-based organizations, to fully fund public safety and improve crisis response;
  • Establish a $2.5 billion First Responder Hiring Grant to create thousands of jobs and provide funding to state, local, and tribal government, 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. 

“For too long, our flawed approach to public safety has centered criminalization, surveillance and incarceration, rather than care, justice and healing,” said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. “Our bill would help change that by directing the federal government to take a health-centered approach to public safety and investing in trauma-informed, community-based responses that will truly keep people safe. I’m grateful to Congresswoman Bush and our colleagues for their partnership as we work to build a more just criminal legal system.”

“I am proud to join my colleagues Congresswomen Cori Bush and Ayanna Pressley in introducing this urgently needed legislation,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-09). “It is well past time we take a public health approach to public safety. We can no longer afford to criminalize and incarcerate those who simply need care – from addressing mental illness, drug addiction, and homelessness, the people deserve well-trained, compassionate first responders. The people deserve the People’s Response Act.”

“The People’s Response Act is transformative legislation that puts us on the path toward achieving our full vision of safety for all Black people,” said Kayla Reed, Executive Director of Action St. Louis and leader of the Movement for Black Lives’ Electoral Justice Project. “It moves us toward a shared vision of what truly keeps Black people safe: dramatic investments in communities that have suffered from generations of systemic racism and economic exploitation, incentives for local governments to adopt critical non-carceral practices, and the creation of a federal community safety agency to make the critical link between public safety and public health. We demand legislators hold a hearing for the People’s Response Act and move the bill towards passage. We know what it takes to keep our communities safe, that is why we will organize to support Rep. Bush and the bill's co-sponsors to make this approach real for Black people.” 

“The People’s Response Act is a powerful counter to the carceral-based policing system that has hurt so many communities and destroyed so many lives,” said Scott Roberts, Senior Campaign Director of Criminal Justice at Color of Change. “Black and brown people continue to be victimized in an experiment in reactive punishment and it is long past time to redefine what constitutes safety in our communities. Public safety is a public health issue and we must finally invest in the services that truly make us safe. We urge Congress to join Cori Bush, support this bill, and work to create true safety in our communities. 

“‘Say Their Names’ is a rallying cry to honor the lives cut short by police violence, and we cannot let this chant become background noise,” said Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign President. “Our nation is overdue for structural change to transform our law enforcement system and investment in community-led, health-based approaches to public safety. The Human Rights Campaign applauds Representative Cori Bush for introducing The People's Response Act and encourages Congress to take a bold step towards a future that protects the humanity of all Americans by passing this important piece of legislation.”

“An actionable, visionary change to the way we approach safety is long overdue. Communities need policies that root safety not in punishment, but in health, education, housing, and the other things that people truly need to thrive,” said Thea Sebastian, Director of Policy for Civil Rights Corps. “The People’s Response Act is a key step in this direction, and we are thrilled that Rep. Bush is leading this charge.”

"We know that when people's needs are met, this is when we have flourishing, healthy communities,” said Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs for Drug Policy Alliance. “This bill seeks to create public safety by ensuring individuals and communities have the infrastructure they need to thrive. For people who use drugs in particular, expanding access to harm reduction services and investing in non-carceral, non-law enforcement responses to a public health issue will save lives. We are proud endorsers of the People's Response Act."

“The People’s Response Act would transform the way we look at policing by re-centering our focus on the communities we serve,” said Lt. Diane Goldstein (Ret.), Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. “The creation of this new federal division would allow us to develop better evidence-based solutions to crime and work to resolve the longstanding social and financial costs of jail and prison overcrowding.”

"Time and time again, we have seen police-led, incarceration-driven approaches to public safety brutalize communities of color while failing to enhance public safety,” said Aamra Ahmad, Senior Policy Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union. “This legislation forges a new path by investing in community-based alternatives that are more effective at ensuring public safety while supporting survivors of violence, responding to mental health crises, and valuing human dignity."

“We applaud Representative Bush for proposing solutions that rethink public safety,” said Jennifer Mathis, Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “Far too many people with psychiatric disabilities, and particularly those who are people of color, have died or experienced needless incarceration due to avoidable contacts with law enforcement. Law enforcement should not be the default response to mental health emergencies.

"It is time that we dismantle a system that has invested in jails and prisons and failed to protect Black lives and Black communities,” said Angela Austin, Director of Operations and Policy, Black Lives Matter Grassroots. “The People’s Response Act is landmark federal legislation inspired by Black organizing and Black lived experiences. The bill is a product of the demands and actions called forth from families directly impacted to upend a law enforcement model that harms our communities instead of protecting us. Thank you to Representative Cori Bush for hearing and centering our issues, and championing radical and transformative Black policy through the halls of Congress. Now it’s time for Congress to act and set a precedent for public safety that allows all communities to thrive. Our future, our freedom, and our lives depend on it.

“The Organization for Black Struggle has worked for over 40 years to show the fallacy of the criminal justice system,” said Malik Sims, Spokesperson for the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis. “Inhumane policies, wasted tax dollars and structural racism have illuminated a failed system. We applaud Congresswoman Cori Bush's effort to humanize a system and put restorative justice at the center.

"The Bail Project applauds The People's Response Act for modeling public safety as a public health issue. Investments in people and not incarceration is how we achieve public safety,” said Kanya Bennett, Senior Policy Counsel & Legislative Coalition Manager for The Bail Project. “Through our Community Release with Support model, we have seen time again that housing, employment, mental health care, and other voluntary services can help return a person to court pretrial or keep them out of the system altogether. We look forward to building upon the foundation that this legislation will set in fostering more non-carceral and community-based models to public safety."

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

"Punitive tactics such as policing and imprisonment uniquely harm Black women,” said Gina Clayton-Johnson, Founder & Executive Director, Essie Justice Group. “Police have harmed and killed us and our loved ones, mass incarceration policy has ravaged our communities, and courts have driven us to financial ruin. Despite more resources than it has ever had at its disposal, the criminal justice system fails to protect Black women each step of the way. The People’s Response Act is a sensible approach that would create pathways to harm prevention and violence interruption that are more effective than policing in keeping communities safe. Congresswoman Cori Bush has answered the cry from gender justice, racial justice, and mental health advocates who know that community-led, health-based investments are the only just public safety solution."

The full text of the legislation can be found HERE.

A one-pager of the bill can be found HERE.

A section-by-section of the legislation can be found HERE.

The resolution is co-sponsored by: Reps. Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-00), Frederica Wilson (FL-24), Gerald Connolly (VA-11), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Alma Adams (NC-12), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Tony Cardenas (CA-29), and Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11).

The resolution is endorsed by: The Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, Civil Rights Corps, Color of Change, Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, Human Impact Partners (HIP), Treatment Advocacy Center, Reale Justice Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Movement for Black Lives, Black Lives Matter, The Bail Project, Center for Popular Democracy, National Immigration Project (NIPNLG), Center for Biological Diversity, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Project South, Center for Media Justice, Voters Organized to Educate, Parents Organized for Public Education, Community Law and Mediation Services of Northern California, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Dignity and Power Now, Zealous, Public Justice Center, Common Justice, Greenpeace US, National Black Worker Center, Freedom Agenda, Mijente, Young Women's Freedom Center, The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Families for Justice as Healing, Project Turnaround, Aligned Law, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children/ All of Us or None, Community Justice Action Fund, End Police Violence Collective, Equal Justice Under Law, Promise of Justice Initiative, MoveOn, National Employment Project, National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Youth Over Guns, Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), and more. 

For a full list of endorsing organizations, click here.