Skip navigation

The Challenge of Criminal Justice Reform, Square One Project-Columbia University, 2019

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
EXECUTIVE SESSION
ON THE FUTURE OF
JUSTICE POLICY
JANUARY 2019
Bruce Western,
Justice Lab,
Columbia University

THE
CHALLENGE
OF CRIMINAL
JUSTICE
REFORM

The Square One Project aims to incubate
new thinking on our response to crime,
promote more effective strategies, and
contribute to a new narrative of justice
in America.
Learn more about the Square One
Project at squareonejustice.org

The Executive Session was created with support from
the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as
part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, which seeks
to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way
America thinks about and uses jails.

04

09

16

THE PUNITIVE
REVOLUTION
IN AMERICAN
CRIMINAL JUSTICE

THE CONTEXT
OF INCARCERATION:
RACIAL INEQUALITY,
POVERTY, AND VIOLENCE

IMPLICATIONS
FOR REFORM

22

22

24

ENDNOTES

REFERENCES

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

24

25

AUTHOR NOTE

MEMBERS OF THE
EXECUTIVE SESSION
ON THE FUTURE OF
JUSTICE POLICY

02

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

After more than three decades of rising
prison and jail populations, a new era
of low crime rates and criminal justice
reform has begun to reverse the U.S. trend
in incarceration. Although violence has
sometimes flared in a few cities, the national
violent crime rate has for a decade remained
at a level not seen since the early 1960s
(Sharkey 2018).

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

03

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Reforms have been wide-ranging.
The federal government has supported
local reentry initiatives, at least since 1999.
Prison over-crowding was relieved through
litigation. Legislation and ballot initiatives
reduced drug sentences. Probation and
parole agencies cut revocations for technical
violations; legislation also reduced periods
of community supervision and periods of
incarceration for violations. At the entrypoint to incarceration, some jurisdictions
have reduced or eliminated the use of money
bail. Others are re-examining the use of
court-imposed fees. Prosecutorial reform
is being pressed both through convenings
among district attorneys, and at the ballot
box in DA elections.
Beyond direct efforts at reducing
incarceration, quantitative analysis is guiding
criminal justice decision-making. Randomized
controlled trials are being used to evaluate
correctional programs. Quantitative risk
assessment is increasingly used to decide
pre-trial detention and classify levels of
custody in prison.

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

Of the many reform efforts, some are
fundamental, disrupting the logic of a system
that has come to rely on harsh punishment.
Others seem more superficial, unlikely to yield
large reductions in imprisonment. The many
efforts to reverse mass incarceration can be
cacophonous, pushing in many directions at
once. Often missing from this mounting wave
of reform is an alternative vision of justice.
In this paper, I propose a framework for
the future direction of criminal justice
reform. The punishing effects of American
criminal justice have become pervasive in
communities challenged by racial inequality,
poverty, and violence. Responding to violence
in contexts of racial inequality and poverty
is the fundamental challenge for reform.
To meet this challenge, we must develop
socially-integrative responses to violence
that draw victims and offenders back into
the social compact. Such responses will help
restore social bonds and build pathways of
opportunity for communities contending
with poverty and racial exclusion.

04

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

THE PUNITIVE
REVOLUTION
IN AMERICAN
CRIMINAL JUSTICE

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

05

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

The scale of incarceration in the United States
increased continuously from 1972 to 2007.
Prison and jail populations both increased
dramatically, and the incarceration rate rose
to a level five times higher than that prevailing
for most of the twentieth century (Figure 1).
In 2016, the latest year for which data are

Figure 2 shows the growth of incarceration

available, there were 2.17 million people

among minority men with little schooling.

incarcerated in jails, or in state or federal

Each bar in the figure shows the percentage

prisons, and the United States had the

of men who have served time in prison by

highest incarceration rate in the world

age 30 to 34, approximately equal to the

(Kaeble and Cowhig 2018; Walmsley 2013).

lifetime risk of imprisonment. The figure

Community corrections populations

also indicates a large racial disparity; black

also grew. Another 4.65 million people in

men are five to six times more likely to be

2016 were on probation or parole, and this

imprisoned than white men. Importantly,

community corrections population had

the chances of imprisonment are low for

increased with the growth in incarceration.

those with college education, but much

The long time series in Figure 1 also shows

higher for men who have never finished high

that the incarceration rate has dipped down

school. Among black men born 1945 to 1949,

over the last ten years, falling from its peak

about 14 percent of those who never finished

of 762 people per 100,000 in 2007 to 695

high school had been to prison by age 35.

people per 100,000 in 2016. Although the

Among black men born 1975 to 1979, about

incarceration rate is no longer increasing,

67 percent are estimated to have been

the fraction of the U.S. population behind

imprisoned. Within a generation, prison time

bars remains historically high.

became common in the lives of black men
with low levels of schooling. For black men
as a whole, incarceration rates increased

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

INCARCERATION RATE PER 100,000 PEOPLE

06

800

600

400

200

0

1925

1940

1955

FIGURE 1
Prison and jail
incarceration rates
per 100,000 people
in the United States,
1925 to 2016.

1970

1985

2000

2015

Prison only
Prison and jail
Sources: Travis,
Western, and Redburn
(2014); Kaeble and
Cowhig (2018).

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

07

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
BECAME A VAST APPARATUS
ORGANIZED TO PUNISH, EXCLUDE,
AND CLOSE OFF OPPORTUNITIES

so much that serving time in prison became

The punitive revolution in American

more likely than graduating college with

criminal justice has brought us to a unique

a four-year degree (Western 2006).

point in history. Prison populations are
extraordinarily large and criminal justice

High incarceration rates and pervasive

agencies are focused in myriad ways on

incarceration among black men with little

the task of punishment. While the extent

schooling came to be known as mass

of punishment has come to feel normal,

incarceration and was the most striking sign

it is extreme, departing from historical

of a punitive revolution in American criminal

and international standards. Beyond the

justice. Conditions in prisons became

scale of the system, there is deep social

more punishing as overcrowding became

inequality in criminal punishment. African

common and educational programming was

American men are much more likely to

cut (e.g., Haney 2006; Travis, Western, and

go to prison than any other demographic

Redburn 2014, chapter 5). As community

group, and incarceration is now pervasive

correction populations swelled, probation

among black men with little schooling

and parole became surveillance agencies

and in the communities in which they live.

monitoring compliance with conditions of

Although disadvantaged communities must

release and abandoning the historic mission

now cope with incarceration, community

of rehabilitation (Petersilia 2003). As states

supervision, court fines and fees, and

cut taxes, fines and fees proliferated, adding

collateral consequences on a vast scale,

charges for incarceration, prosecution,

fundamental change is on the horizon.

and community supervision to cover the

The country has entered a period of

costs of a system for which voters were

reform. What should replace America’s

unwilling to pay (Harris 2016). Even after

great experiment with punishment in its

sentences were completed, millions of men

poorest communities of color?

and women were hamstrung by criminal
background checks in applications for jobs,
housing, and credit. Criminal records limited
voting rights, eligibility for federal benefits,
and access to licensed occupations.
The criminal justice system became a vast
apparatus organized to punish, exclude,
and close off opportunities.

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

CUMULATIVE RISK OF IMPRISONMENT (%)

08

70

60

50

40

30

20

10

0

College

HS/GED
WHITE

<HS

College

HS/GED

<HS

LATINO

FIGURE 2
Cumulative risk of
imprisonment in 1979 and
2009 for birth cohorts
of men born between
1945–1949 and 1975–1970,
by race and education.

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

College

HS/GED

<HS

BLACK

Born 1945–1949
Born 1975–1979
College indicates college
educated, HS/GED indicates
high school graduates
or equivalent, and HS
indicates those who have
not completed high school.
Source: Western and
Pettit (2010).

09

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

THE CONTEXT OF
INCARCERATION:
RACIAL INEQUALITY,
POVERTY, AND
VIOLENCE

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

10

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Understanding alternatives to pervasive
incarceration involves understanding the
social worlds in which punitive criminal
justice currently operates. I argue that
the social world of mass incarceration is
defined by three characteristics: racial
inequality, poverty, and a high level
of violence (Western 2018).

RACIAL INEQUALITY
Racial inequality is a dominating reality

important role when, for instance, banks

for the criminal justice system. African

and landlords made decisions that excluded

Americans are five to six times more

minority families from white neighborhoods.

likely to be incarcerated than whites;

But racial inequality also has taken an

Latinos are about twice as likely to be

institutionalized form, woven into police

incarcerated as whites. Because of racial

routines and penal codes, so disparities

segregation in housing and the concentration

in punishment would endure even if

of poverty in minority neighborhoods, jail

discrimination were eliminated among

time, parole appointments, and police

line officers and sentencing judges.

interactions have become a regular part
of life in disadvantaged communities of
color.1 Overt discrimination has played an

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

11

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Some commentators saw little injustice

highest rates of arrest and incarceration

in the racial disparities in incarceration.

(Sampson 2012; Clear 2007; Simes 2016).

High rates of incarceration among African

The spatial concentration of policing and

Americans were simply a reflection of racial

incarceration is not lost on community

disparities of crime. As John Dilulio (1996)

residents, who have often grown alienated

wrote, “If blacks are overrepresented in the

and cynical about the true intentions of

ranks of the imprisoned, it is because blacks

the justice system (Bell 2016).

are overrepresented in the criminal ranks—
and the violent criminal ranks, at that.” But

The spatial concentration of incarceration

this naturalizes the link between crime and

in poor communities of color meant that

incarceration. Of all the different ways that

the negative consequences of incarceration

policymakers could have responded to the

were also spatially concentrated in

problem of crime, a course was chosen that

those communities. Research shows

greatly curtailed the liberty of a segment of

that incarceration is associated with

the population who have had to fight for their

diminished earnings and employment,

freedom from the beginning.

family disruption, and poor health (Wakefield
and Uggen 2010; Wildeman and Muller

Successive eras of forced confinement for

2012). Even without mass incarceration,

African Americans are not just an historical

there were large racial inequalities in labor

abstraction. One legacy of a history of racial

market outcomes, family structures, and

oppression is segregation in housing, in

health statuses. Mass incarceration has

which black residents are largely confined

added to the disadvantages of communities

to black neighborhoods. Because the poverty

of color along all those dimensions.

rate is so much higher for blacks than whites,
black residents are much more likely to live in
high-poverty neighborhoods. High-poverty
minority neighborhoods became focal points
of punitive criminal justice policy, facing the

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

12

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

POVERTY
Although there are large racial disparities

treatment. Untreated addiction and mental

in incarceration, inequalities in criminal

illness can draw people into conflict with

punishment have grown most along

the law, and jails and prisons become health

economic, not racial lines. Incarceration

care providers of last resort. For example,

rates increased most among those who

in the Boston Reentry Study, an interview

had the worst economic opportunities,

study with a sample of men and women

among those with the lowest levels of

newly released from state prison, two-thirds

education. Because poverty rates are so

reported histories of mental illness,

high among African Americans, astonishing

drug addiction, or both (Western 2018).

rates of incarceration emerged in poor
black neighborhoods.

The connections between poverty,
homelessness, and incarceration have

The term poverty usually refers to low

been found in a range of research sites

income, and by itself fails to capture all

(Metraux, Roman, and Cho 2007; Herbert,

the accompanying social problems that

Morenoff, and Harding 2015). More of private

are closely correlated with incarceration.

life is conducted in public for those who are

Three correlates are particularly

insecurely housed or homeless. Private life

important for connecting poverty to

in public space exposes poor people to police

incarceration: untreated addiction and

scrutiny. Buying and using drugs, quarreling,

mental illness, housing insecurity and

and fighting all become risk factors for

homelessness, and life histories of trauma

arrest when unfolding on the street instead

and victimization. In earlier work, I used

of in private homes (Duneier 1999). Housing

the term “human frailty” to describe the

insecurity is also acute after incarceration,

cluster of maladies that accompany the

so unstable housing comes to contribute

harsh conditions of American poverty

to the process of repeated incarceration.

(Western 2018). High rates of mental illness
and drug addiction are well-documented
in correctional populations. Low-income
families confronting addiction and mental
illness can also struggle to find adequate

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

13

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Life conditions of poverty, marked by

corrosive without adequate treatment.

untreated mental illness, addiction, and

Housing is unstable without affordable

housing instability, have often formed the

alternatives. Trauma in childhood arises in

context for a chaotic home life. The social

chaotic homes and disorderly neighborhoods

dynamics of poor neighborhoods are unable

in which adult guardians are themselves

to guard against street violence and other

buffeted by economic insecurity. Young

crime. Growing up in such homes and

people, especially men, who are not

neighborhoods, men and women who have

productively occupied as spouses, parents,

been incarcerated have often experienced

and breadwinners, get into trouble in

serious trauma in childhood, and have

neighborhoods that lack resources for

serious histories of violent victimization.

recreation, education, and employment.

In the Boston Reentry Study, 40 percent
of the sample had witnessed someone
being killed in childhood, and a similar
percentage had grown up with family
violence (Western 2018).
Poverty is not just low income, but a cluster
of life adversities that reflect failures of
state support as much as material hardship.
Addiction and mental illness become

POVERTY IS NOT JUST LOW
INCOME, BUT A CLUSTER
OF LIFE ADVERSITIES THAT
REFLECT FAILURES OF
STATE SUPPORT AS MUCH
AS MATERIAL HARDSHIP

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

14

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

VIOLENCE
For those who have been incarcerated,

Poor neighborhoods also contend with

childhood trauma is often just one part

violence. Violence can flourish where

of a larger social environment in which the

poverty has depleted a neighborhood

risks of violence have been sustained over

of steady employment, community

a lifetime. Violence in the lives of men and

organizations, and a stable population

women who go to prison is often strongly

that can monitor street life. What

contextual, arising under conditions of

criminologists call the informal social

poverty. (For research on the links between

controls of family and employment are

violence and poverty, see Evans 2004,

in short supply. Community groups that

Sampson 2012, Sharkey 2018). Under

can engage young men and provide adult

these conditions, social psychologists

supervision bring structure to social life

have found that home life may lack

and reduce the possibility of crime.

routine, adult guardians may be away at
work, and unrelated men may pass through

Violence rooted in the social environments

the households of children who are later

of poverty—chaotic homes and disorderly

at risk of imprisonment as adults. Such

neighborhoods—is more a product of

chaotic homes are rooted not in the bad

unchosen circumstances than individual

character of their residents, but in material

dispositions or character. A key implication

circumstances of poverty. In such homes

is that those living in those circumstances

that lack predictability, routine and stable

come to play many roles in relation to

guardianship invite victimization and offer

violence: victim, offender, and witness.

little safety in the event of trouble.

Often, those who have committed
violence have also witnessed and
been victimized by it.

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

15

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

VIOLENCE CAN FLOURISH WHERE POVERTY
HAS DEPLETED A NEIGHBORHOOD OF STEADY
EMPLOYMENT, COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS,
AND A STABLE POPULATION THAT CAN
MONITOR STREET LIFE
Incarcerated men and women have lived

crime, perhaps around just 10 percent of

with serious violence, but has the growth in

the 1990s crime decline. (See the review

incarceration made communities safer? The

of research on the effects of incarceration

social costs of mass incarceration might be

on crime in Travis, Western, and Redburn

justified if the punitive revolution significantly

2014, chapter 5, and Durlauf and Nagin 2011).

reduced violence. It is true that crime rates
fell dramatically from the early 1990s while

Assessments of the effects of incarceration

incarceration rates increased. By 2015, the

on crime also overlook the unemployment

murder rate was at a historically low level.

that comes with prison and its aftermath,

The great decline in American violence

the costs to family of visitation and reentry,

significantly improved the quality of life in

the separation of children from parents, or

disadvantaged communities. But the growth

the cynicism that grows in heavily policed

in incarceration appears to have played only

communities. Neither does the research

a small role. Researchers have been unable

weigh the injustice of imprisonment that is

to find compelling evidence that high and

concentrated among people who themselves

demographically concentrated rates of

have been seriously victimized by crime,

incarceration produced large and long-term

who are poor, and mostly African American

reductions in violent crime. Given the great

or Latino. Finally, even the crime reductions

fiscal cost, prison has failed to clearly yield

that incarceration can take credit for should

a positive return on investment.

be judged against alternative approaches,
not the politically impossible option of doing

Dozens of studies have tried to calculate

nothing. For all these reasons, the punitive

the effects of the prison boom on crime,

revolution failed to clearly bring justice

yet there is little evidence of a large effect.

and safety to America’s poorest and most

Estimating the effects of prison population

troubled communities.

growth on crime is difficult because crime
itself is a cause of incarceration. There are
several excellent summaries of this research,
but most conclude that the fourfold growth
in incarceration rates from the 1970s to the
2000s produced only a small reduction in

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

16

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

IMPLICATIONS
FOR REFORM

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

17

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Under conditions of racial inequality and
poverty, which formed a context for violence
in homes and neighborhoods, incarceration
became the ready answer to a range of
challenging social problems.
Sentencing policy relied on long terms

back criminal sentences to their 1980 level,

of imprisonment for people convicted

the scale of incarceration would return to

of violent offenses who themselves had

historical standards. Second, a scientific

histories of serious victimization. For

impulse resists crime policy populism

poor people facing joblessness, untreated

and seeks to bring data analysis and other

addiction, and homelessness, prisons and

systematic evidence to bear on policy and

jails designed for punishment and detention

correctional management. Evidence-based

became de facto shelters, detox units,

policy are the watchwords of the scientific

and mental health facilities.

impulse. Third, an ethical impulse has
elevated values of redemption, fairness,

After decades of harsh sentencing and

and human dignity as counterweights to

mounting incarceration rates, criminal

punitive crime policy that divides the moral

justice reforms are gaining momentum

universe between good and bad, victim

around the country. The gathering criminal

and offender.

justice reform conversation is propelled by
three impulses. First, a libertarian impulse
seeks to shrink the system and make
government less intrusive in the lives of
its people. Appetite for downsizing prisons
was sharpened by the 2008 recession,
when correctional budgets threatened
to plunge states into fiscal crisis. According
to the libertarian impulse, if we could dial

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

18

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

FUNDAMENTAL REFORM MUST
ALSO GRAPPLE DIRECTLY WITH
THE SOCIAL CONDITIONS IN WHICH
MASS INCARCERATION EMERGED

Each of these impulses has shifted crime

social justice, and the goals of promoting

policy in a less punitive direction, but

safety and reducing the harms of violence

fundamental reform must also grapple

are continuous with providing order,

directly with the social conditions in which

predictability, and material security in daily

mass incarceration emerged. Violence,

life. If today’s racial inequality—marked by

poverty, and racial inequality are deep

neighborhood segregation, discrimination,

challenges to our politics and public policy.

and racial disparity in incarceration—is the

Significantly reducing incarceration will

residue of historical contests over black

require reducing sentences for violent

freedom and citizenship, then justice reform

offenses, and this will ultimately involve

will also involve settling accounts with

new ways of thinking about the problem

history. Creating justice institutions that

of violence and responding to it. The

are widely esteemed and belonging to all

moral outrage that activates our punitive

involves acknowledgement of the historic

instincts understands violence as the

and collective injuries of mass incarceration.

strong preying on the weak. But violent
contexts produced under conditions of

The challenge of justice reform is one of

poverty and racial inequality dissolves the

social and political imagination—envisioning

bright line between victims and offenders.

how justice institutions might help

The ethics of punishment must weigh this

extinguish rather than fan the flames of

moral complexity.

poverty, racial inequality, and violence
in heavily disadvantaged communities.

If poverty produces chaotic homes and

Mass incarceration failed as public policy

disorderly neighborhoods, threats of

precisely because it was divisive, eroding

violence and bodily harms are related less

the social bonds of family and community.

to the individual dispositions of offenders

Public safety does not depend mostly on

than to social environments. Justice is then

the work of police, courts, and prisons.

found more in the abatement of violent

Instead, it is produced by a raft of social

environments than in the punishment of

institutions—families, schools, employers,

violent people. A re-imagined criminal

churches and neighborhood groups, and

justice will concede some jurisdiction to

the bonds of community—that regularize

other agencies—departments of housing,

social life and promote daily routine.

child services, public health, education,
and labor. Here, criminal justice becomes

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

19

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Social institutions activate the attention

Harsh and narrowly concentrated

of neighbors, co-workers, spouses,

punishment, particularly the

teachers, and employers who monitor,

community-eroding instrument of

conduct, and stand as a normative

incarceration, offers little to such

reminder of order. The social institutions

a re-imagined criminal justice. Instead,

of community life are age graded. As children

in the aftermath of violence, our courts

grow into adolescence and then adulthood,

and correctional agencies should help

they are socialized into the roles of spouse,

rebuild the social membership of victims

worker, and citizen that help maintain

and offenders alike—both of whom have

regularity and routine in daily life. Movement

been alienated from the social compact by

through the life course has an important

violence. In part, this will involve recognizing

material component, where growing up

histories of victimization and trauma of

confers not just independence from family

those who were most recently offenders.

and school, but also the means to sustain

In part, it will involve attending to the needs

oneself and others. Communities rich in

of victims directly, instead of hoping that

institutions and social connection enjoy

victims might find relief and restoration

a thick kind of public safety that provides

from the offender’s punishment.

predictability and material security in
everyday life. Community residents aren’t

In short, responses to violence that

just free from bodily threats. They are

emerge in contexts of poverty and racial

materially secure in their housing, intimate

inequality must be socially integrative,

relationships, and livelihoods. Thick public

helping to build the conditions of opportunity

safety lengthens people’s time horizons,

and social connection that underpin thick

allowing them to imagine a future in which

public safety. With social integration as

it makes sense to invest in themselves

a basic principle of justice reform, we can

and their children.

revisit the libertarian, scientific, and ethical
reform impulses of the current period.

IN THE AFTERMATH OF VIOLENCE, OUR
COURTS AND CORRECTIONAL AGENCIES
SHOULD HELP REBUILD THE SOCIAL
MEMBERSHIP OF VICTIMS AND 
OFFENDERS ALIKE

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

20

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

First, libertarianism. Shrinking correctional

capable of individualized assessment

populations will contain government policy

and management, unyielding to changing

run amok, but by itself will not do enough

social environments. Race and class

to restore the social bonds of community

disparities in crime and law enforcement

in the aftermath of violence. Instead, public

are imprinted on the estimation of individual

investments are needed to address the

risk, singling out poor people of color for

harms suffered by victims, and to create

intensive attention. Quantitative prediction

a path back to community for those who have

used in this way offers little to the project

hurt others. In communities that are poor and

of fundamental justice reform

isolated by segregation, public investment is
itself a type of social integration, knocking

Finally, the ethical impulse. Elevating

down barriers to mobility and sharing

values of redemption, compassion, and

opportunity more widely.

human dignity affirms the sense of common
humanity that motivates the project of

Second, the scientific impulse. The

social integration. Often these values are

use of systematic quantitative evidence

enlisted to justify mercy or leniency that

is an indispensable answer to the

moderate harsh punishment. But even the

hot emotions that have driven harsh

ethical impulse is an incomplete response,

sentencing policy. But in practice, the

unless it also provides the opportunity

authority of quantitative precision

for moral action among those who have

has been bestowed on individualized

harmed others. Just as incarceration asks

assessments of risk and retribution

no moral agency from prisoners, leniency

that can threaten social integration.

can also be morally disengaged without

Improved predictions of future conduct

a dialogue about the perpetrator’s role in

have long been an elusive goal through

harm and acknowledgement of the pain

experiments in selective incapacitation

suffered by victims.

and intensive parole supervision that
date from the 1970s and 1980s. Today’s
predictive analytics for risk assessment
are the latest tours on this journey. For
these predictive efforts, criminal conduct
is regarded as a personal attribute

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

21

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Beyond the impulses of libertarianism,

Second, a re-imagined criminal justice

scientism, and human values, the principle

will actively draw victims and offenders

of social integration offers two ready

back into the social compact and offer

guides for justice reform. First, penal

avenues of opportunity to social and

policy that adds to poverty and racial

material security. Socially integrative

inequality is a self-defeating strategy for

measures that support communities to

community health and safety. Instead,

provide housing, health care, and education

fundamental reform efforts should cut

build opportunity and human capacity. In

the connections between incarceration,

this vision, social integration will replace

poverty, and racial inequality. Elimination

punishment, and much of this work will be

of money bail and legal financial

done outside of traditional criminal justice

obligations, education and training,

agencies. Providing material security and

reentry programs providing treatment,

predictability in daily life will establish

housing, and employment are all examples

a virtuous circle that promotes safety

of reforms that erode the criminalization

and reduces the harms of violence, while

of socioeconomic disadvantage.

strengthening the bonds of family and
community. In such a world, those facing
the challenges of violence, harsh poverty,

PROVIDING MATERIAL
SECURITY AND PREDICTABILITY
IN DAILY LIFE WILL ESTABLISH
A VIRTUOUS CIRCLE THAT
PROMOTES SAFETY AND REDUCES
THE HARMS OF VIOLENCE, WHILE
STRENGTHENING THE BONDS
OF FAMILY AND COMMUNITY

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

and historically embedded racial inequality
might find a level of safety and well-being
that allows them to better imagine a future
for themselves and for their children.

22

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

ENDNOTES

REFERENCES

1 Trends in racial and ethnic disparities

Bell, Monica C. 2016. Essays on

in incarceration are discussed in the

Police Relations in the Context of

National Academy of Sciences report

Inequality. Ph.D. thesis, Sociology

on the causes and consequence of high

and Social Policy, Harvard University,

incarceration rates in the United States

Cambridge, MA.

(Travis et al. 2014, chapter 2).
Clear, Todd. 2007. Imprisoning
Communities: How Mass Incarceration
Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods
Worse. New York: Oxford
University Press.
DiIulio, John. 1996. “My Black Crime
Problem, and Ours.” City Journal
6:14–28.
Duneier, Mitchell. 1999. Sidewalk.
New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Durlauf, Steven N. and Daniel S.
Nagin. 2011. “The Deterrent Effect of
Imprisonment.” In Controlling Crime:
Strategies and Tradeoffs, edited by
Philip J. Cook, Jens Ludwig, and
Justin McCrary, pp. 43–94. University
of Chicago Press.
Evans, Gary W. 2004. “The Environment
of Childhood Poverty.” American
Psychologist 59:77–92.

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

23

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Haney, Craig. 2006. Reforming

Sampson, Robert J. 2012. Great

Western, Bruce. 2006. Punishment and

Punishment: Psychological Limits to the

American City: Chicago and the Enduring

Inequality in America. New York: Russell

Pains of Imprisonment. Washington, DC:

Neighborhood Effect. Chicago, IL:

Sage Foundation.

American Psychological Association.

University of Chicago Press.

Harris, Alexes. 2016. A Pound of Flesh:

Sharkey, Patrick. 2018. Uneasy Peace:

Life in the Year After Prison. New York:

Monetary Sanctions as Punishment

The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of

Russell Sage Foundation.

for the Poor. New York: Russell

City Life, and the Next War on Violence.

Sage Foundation.

New York: Norton.

Western, Bruce. 2018. Homeward:

Western, Bruce and Becky Pettit. 2010.
“Incarceration and Social Inequality.”

Herbert, Claire W, Jeffrey D Morenoff,

Simes, Jessica T. 2016. Essays on

and David J Harding. 2015.

Place and Punishment in America.

“Homelessness and Housing Instability

Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University.

among Former Prisoners.” Russell Sage
Foundation Journal 1:45–79.

Daedalus 139(3):8–19.
Wildeman, Christopher and Christopher
Muller. 2012. “Mass Imprisonment

Travis, Jeremy, Bruce Western,

and Inequality in Health and Family

and Stephens Redburn (eds.). 2014.

Life.” Annual Review of Law and Social

Kaeble, Danielle and Mary Cowhig.

The Growth of Incarceration in the

Science 8:11–30.

2018. “Correctional Populations in the

United States: Exploring Causes and

United States, 2016.” Bureau of Justice

Consequences. Washington, DC:

Statistics NCJ 251211.

National Academy Press.

Metraux, Stephen, Caterina G.

Wakefield, Sara and Christopher

Roman, and Richard S. Cho. 2007.

Uggen. 2010. “Incarceration and

“Incarceration and Homelessness.”

Stratification.” Annual Review of

National Symposium on Homelessness

Sociology 36:387–406.

Research pp. 1–31.
Walmsley, Roy. 2013. “World Prison
Petersilia, Joan. 2003. When

Population List, Tenth Edition.”

Prisoners Come Home: Parole and

Technical report, International

Prisoner Reentry. New York: Oxford

Prison Studies Centre, Kings College,

University Press.

London, UK.

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

24

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

AUTHOR NOTE

The author is grateful to fellow
Executive Session colleagues
Vinny Schiraldi, Abbey Stamp,
Elizabeth Trejos Castillo, Kris Steele,
Jeremy Travis, Katharine Huffman, and
Anamika Dwivedi for their comments
on an earlier draft of this paper.

Bruce Western is the co-founder
and co-director of the Justice
Lab at Columbia University. He is
also a professor of sociology at
Columbia University.

Designed by soapbox.co.uk

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

25

THE CHALLENGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

MEMBERS OF THE EXECUTIVE SESSION
ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY
Abbey Stamp | Executive Director,
Multnomah County Local Public
Safety Coordinating Council

Emily Wang | Director, Health
Justice Lab & Co-Founder,
Transitions Clinic Network

Nneka Jones Tapia |
Inaugural Leader in Residence,
Chicago Beyond

Amanda Alexander | Founding
Executive Director, Detroit
Justice Center

Greisa Martinez | Deputy Executive
Director, United We Dream

Pat Sharkey | Professor and Chair
of Sociology, NYU & Scientific
Director, Crime Lab New York

Arthur Rizer | Director of Criminal
Justice and Civil Liberties,
R Street Institute
Bruce Western | Co-Director
and Co-Founder, Justice Lab,
Columbia University
Danielle Sered | Executive
Director, Common Justice
Daryl Atkinson | Co-Director,
Forward Justice
Elizabeth Glazer | Director,
New York City’s Mayor’s Office
of Criminal Justice
Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo | C. R.
Hutcheson Endowed Associate
Professor, Texas Tech University
Elizabeth Trosch | District Court
Judge, 26th Judicial District of
North Carolina

EXECUTIVE SESSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE POLICY

Jeremy Travis | Executive Vice
President of Criminal Justice,
Laura and John Arnold Foundation
Katharine Huffman | Executive
Director, Square One Project,
Justice Lab, Columbia University

Robert Rooks | Vice President,
Alliance for Safety and Justice
Sylvia Moir | Chief of Police,
Tempe, Arizona

Kevin Thom | Sheriff, Pennington
County, South Dakota

Thomas Harvey | Justice Project
Program Director and Senior
Attorney, Advancement Project

Kris Steele | Executive
Director, TEEM

Tracey Meares | Founding Director,
The Justice Collaboratory

Lynda Zeller | Senior Fellow
Behavioral Health, Michigan Health
Endowment Fund

Vikrant Reddy | Senior Fellow,
Charles Koch Institute

Matthew Desmond | Professor
of Sociology, Princeton University
& Founder, The Eviction Lab
Melissa Nelson | State Attorney,
Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit
Nancy Gertner | Professor, Harvard
Law School & Retired Senior Judge,
United States District Court

Vincent Schiraldi | Co-Director
and Co-Founder, Justice Lab,
Columbia University
Vivian Nixon | Executive Director,
College and Community Fellowship

The Executive Session on the
Future of Justice Policy, part
of the Square One Project, brings
together researchers, practitioners,
policy makers, advocates, and
community representatives to
generate and cultivate new ideas.
The group meets in an off-the-record setting
twice a year to examine research, discuss new
concepts, and refine proposals from group
members. The Session publishes a paper series
intended to catalyze thinking and propose
policies to reduce incarceration and develop
new responses to violence and the other social
problems that can emerge under conditions of
poverty and racial inequality. By bringing together
diverse perspectives, the Executive Session tests
and pushes its participants to challenge their
own thinking and consider new options.

 

 

Prison Profiteers - Side
Advertise Here 2nd Ad
The Habeas Citebook Ineffective Counsel Side