"Although the pace of criminal justice reform has accelerated at both the federal and state levels in the past decade, current initiatives have had only a modest effect on the size of the prison population. But over this period, three states – New York, New Jersey, and California – have achieved prison population reductions in the range of 25%. They have also seen their crime rates generally decline at a faster pace than the national average" (p. 1). This brief describes how these outcomes were achieved and explains other states can significantly reduce their prison population while ensuring public safety. Sections contained in this brief are: key findings; a decade of evolving criminal justice reform; limited impact on incarceration to date; substantial prison population declines in three states; impact of prison populations reductions on crime; policies and practices that reduced the prison population in the three states; the limited relationship between incarceration and crime; international experience in prison population reduction; potential for substantial prison population reductions; three goals for expanding prison population reduction; and conclusion.
"There are few areas of American society where racial disparities are as profound and as troubling as in the criminal justice system. In fact, racial perceptions of crime and race influenced policy development have been intimately tied to the development of mass incarceration. Yet there is growing evidence that the high rate of minority imprisonment is excessive for public safety goals and damaging for family and community structures in high incarceration neighborhoods. This briefing paper provides an overview of racial disparities in the criminal justice system and a framework for developing and implementing remedies for these disparities." Six sections comprise this publication: incorporating racial equality as a goal in criminal justice reform; overview of racial equality in the criminal justice system; causes of racial disparity—socioeconomic inequality, handicapping of low-income people by resource allocation decisions, disparate racial impact of ostensibly race-neutral policies, and implicit racial bias among criminal justice professionals; best practices for reducing racial disparity; implementation strategies and metrics for success; and conclusion.
"To guide and give greater momentum to recent calls for reform, this report examines a key driving force of criminal justice outcomes: racial perceptions of crime. A complex set of factors contributes to the severity and selectivity of punishment in the United States, including public concern about crime and racial differences in crime rates. This report synthesizes two decades of research establishing that skewed racial perceptions of crime – particularly, white Americans’ strong associations of crime with racial minorities – have bolstered harsh and biased criminal justice policies" (p. 3). Eight sections follow an executive summary: introduction; public support for punitive policies—historical changes in punitive sentiment, and the racial gaps in punitiveness and victimization; racial perceptions of crime—overestimating Black and Hispanic crime rates, and implicit biases against people of color; racial perceptions of crime linked to punitiveness; sources of racial perceptions of crime; punitiveness linked to other racial gaps in views and experiences—Whites' limited and favorable criminal justice contact, racial prejudice, and individualistic accounts of crime; consequences of a biased and punitive criminal justice system—eroded perceived legitimacy, and undermining public safety; and remedies and recommendations for the media and researchers, policymakers, and practitioners and other stakeholders.
"Our comparative analysis of U.S. Prison Population Trends 1999-2014 reveals broad variation in nationwide incarceration trends. While 39 states have experienced a decline since reaching their peak prison populations within the past 15 years, in most states this decline has been relatively modest. In addition, 11 states have had continuing rises in imprisonment. These developments suggest that while the recent national decline in the prison population is encouraging, any significant decarceration will require more sustained attention. In this regard, 12 states have produced double-digit declines for some period since 1999, led by New Jersey (31%), New York (28%), Rhode Island (25%), and California (22%). Notably, these states have achieved substantial reductions with no adverse effect on public safety. Among states with rising prison populations, four have experienced double-digit increases, led by Nebraska and Arkansas, whose respective prisons populations grew by 22% and 18% since 2009. Despite sharing in the national crime drop, these states have resisted the trend toward decarceration" (website).