Bruce Western Reports on The Challenge of Criminal Justice Reform
Date:  02-15-2019

Western argues that mass incarceration is defined by three characteristics: racial inequality, poverty, and a high level of violence
From Bruce Western's report 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 entry- point 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.

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.

Read the full report here.