The Future of Crime and Punishment: Smart Policies for Reducing Crime and Saving Money

Rowman and Littlefield, July 2016

The criminal justice system we have today is not just a tribute to bad policy.  It is also a consequence of bad politics, bad laws, bad investment, a culture of retribution and punishment, and the failure of a variety of major public institutions.  The criminal justice system has become an extraordinarily expensive, ineffective and counterproductive monument to the need for elected officials to be seen as tough on crime, to three strikes laws and mandatory minimum sentences, and truth in sentencing laws that in effect “locked em up and threw away the key.”  The justice system is also the repository for the failure of our public education, mental health, and the juvenile justice systems, as well as our inability to effectively address poverty.  For decades, we have relied upon the nation’s prisons and jails to clean up the consequences of these failures. 

My primary goal in writing this book is to broaden the audience of individuals who are informed about the limitations of current criminal justice policy and to provide a road map of reform consisting of policies and programs that reduce crime, recidivism, victimization and cost.  While we have the scientific evidence for that road map, we are still locked in crime control and a punishment focused justice system.  We continue to throw billions of dollars at a failed justice system and a failed effort at drug control.  Having the answers is only part of the solution. Changing the way we think about crime and punishment, creating a culture focused more on behavioral change than simple, expensive retribution and punishment requires a bottom-up effort.  Culture cannot be legislated. Policy





change cannot be successful without changing how we think about crime and public safety.  These efforts are greatly facilitated by public knowledge and public support.

The Future of Crime and Punishment is a book about solutions.  The focus is on how to effectively reduce crime, recidivism, and victimization.  The key to this enterprise is identifying the primary causes and correlates (the criminogenic circumstances) of criminal offending, understanding the scientifically validated methods for behavioral change, changing the way we prosecute and sentences criminal cases, confronting the interrelated problems of guns, drugs and gangs, slowing the flow from the juvenile justice system to the adult system, and identifying what we can learn from the policies and practices of other nations.

It is also a book about return on investment. Prison is expensive and largely counterproductive.  Not only does it not reduce recidivism, the evidence indicates that prison actually increases the likelihood of reoffending.   The one trillion dollars we have spent on the war on drugs has not been a prudent investment.  It is time that we stop putting the public at risk of unnecessary, avoidable victimizations.  It is time we stop the ever-spinning revolving door of the American criminal justice system.  It is time that governments stop pouring public revenue down the sink.  It is time to dramatically improve the return on our criminal justice investment.

Buy the book