Reforming the Criminal Justice System in the United States: Issues and Recommendations

Journal article published in special issue of the Prison Journal (September 2011, Vol. 91), which which presented a series articles in which several of the nation's preeminent criminal justice researchers discuss strategic solutions that can reverse the costly incarceration trends of the past 30 years.

Introducing the special issue, the article discusses how correctional policy in the United States has alternately emphasized rehabilitation and punishment. The current "tough on crime" era has led to steadily increasing numbers of imprisoned Americans and unsustainable costs. Overcrowded prisons and bloated correctional budgets have drained money from educational and social programs, reaching unprecedented levels in the 1980s and becoming completely untenable in times of diminished resources. In response, many advocacy groups have called for correctional reform, including the Human Rights Watch, the Sentencing Project, the Justice Project, the Vera Institute of Justice, the Council of State Governments, the Pew Center for the States, and the Northpointe Institute for Public Management. The voices of these reformers have decried the overuse of incarceration and its costliness, compared with other sentencing alternatives that generally yield greater dividends with respect to community safety and offender rehabilitation. Within the federal government, the most reasoned and resonant voice for prison reform belongs to Senator James Webb (D-Virginia), who has encouraged a bipartisan approach to criminal justice changes through his proposed National Criminal Justice Commission (NCJC).

The article was authored by Harry K. Wexler (National Development and Research Institutes [NDRI]), Arthur J. Lurigio (Loyola University Chicago), and Pamela F. Rodriguez (TASC, Inc.).