Criminal Justice at the Crossroads: Transforming Crime and Punishment, Columbia University Press, 2015

Over the past forty years, the United States has engaged in a very expensive policy failure.  We have attempted to punish our way to public safety, with dismal results.  Not only has the U.S. punishment boom not effectively reduced crime, recidivism and victimization, we have created one of the most efficient and costly revolving doors that one can imagine.

Recidivism (reoffending) rates for individuals released from prison today are between 50% and 65%. We have a justice system that costs over $260 billion annually.  We have a failed drug policy that has cost over one trillion dollars since it began in the early 1970s.  We have created a massive revolving door of individuals for whom opportunities for housing, legitimate work, civic participation, health care, mental health care, sobriety, and social and community integration are generally quite limited.  And at the same time, we have imposed an array of negative  collateral consequences on families and communities, and have effectively passed criminal offending on to the next generation. How smart is that? 

It need not be this way. Today we have effective, cost efficient strategies for reducing crime and recidivism, strategies that focus on behavior change.  The path forward is a combination of substantial changes in priorities, policies, procedures and funding.  It also fundamentally involves changing how we think about crime and punishment, in effect changing the culture of American criminal justice. Smart on crime and recidivism involves



dropping the get tough mantra and acknowledging that punishment does little to change behavior in a positive direction.   Rather, criminal offenders typically present with a variety of criminogenic conditions that require proactive, evidence-based intervention in order to change.  The key players in the justice system need to reformulate how they perform their responsibilities. Prosecutors and judges need to change how they think about and process cases, emphasizing identification of the criminogenic circumstances and determining the most effective way to change behavior. Decision making needs to become collaborative, involving input from a variety of professions and disciplines. Diversion is the priority, with funding substantially increased for problem solving courts and probation programs, as we reserve incarceration for violent, habitual offenders. 

Many books criticize criminal justice policy.  Criminal Justice at the Crossroads is the only book that provides a smart, effective, evidence-based and cost efficient path to substantially reducing crime, recidivism, victimization and cost. This book offers evidence-based strategies in a comprehensive, coordinated policy strategy. The recommendations presented in this book are done so with an appreciation of the difficulties and challenges of developing and implementing policy. Kelly goes to considerable trouble to place the recommendations in the context of real world policy development.

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