That doesn’t mean that political squabbling and ideological posturing will not make their appearance. Americans, regrettably, have become used to that. It’s an annoying fact of life. But this time, let that Washington D.C. show be a short one. The time is right—even past due—for serious legislation to proceed that will reform the criminal justice system nationally. Both parties know the facts and can see the problems. There is no excuse for inertia.
Recidivism rates nationally present a dismal picture of prison failure. Last year, in an article addressing the subject of offender re-entry, the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham reported that 60% of offenders currently find their way back to prison within just three years of release.1 That, of course, defines the revolving door of recidivism—release to the community, re-offense, and return to prison. This intensifies prison overcrowding and eats up resources. With costs per prisoner running into thousands of dollars each year, the ever-increasing drain on public budgets to fund incarceration has become a central issue. It’s a matter of “diminishing returns” on taxpayer investment.
Moreover, the national incarceration rate has become a scandal, eclipsing that of any industrialized nation and even greater than the prison populations of China and Russia combined.2 How the United States could incarcerate so many more ...
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...initiative is so necessary. A vast amount of research has already been done. Researchers have a number of evidence-supported strategies that promise better results. We need leadership and sufficient resources to apply them experimentally in order to achieve better performance in the criminal justice system and to keep our communities safer.
The touchstone in such a program must be “what works”, not our preconceived notions of what should work. Current biases have already made the America the leader in putting people in prison. If we want that to change, then we must recognize that “putting people behind bars” is not the only—or often the best—response to crime. In the “land of the free” that should not be a difficult idea to accept; but given the love affair with incarceration observed in some quarters, that idea might require some “bravery” to act on.
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