Criminal Justice Reform – Lessons From The United States

Criminal justice reform: Lessons from the United States is the second major research report from the IPA’s Criminal Justice Project.

The report can be found here.

Executive summary

Criminal justice reform first principles

  • Criminal justice reform in the United States has slowed the rate of growth of incarceration, reduced recidivism, and saved money.
  • The reform agenda has had bipartisan input and support, with reforms being implemented in many cases with Republican leadership.
  • The principles of successful criminal justice reform:
    • Community safety is paramount, and can be increased by reducing recidivism and unnecessary incarceration
    • The criminal justice system should be subject to fiscal oversight, and the system can be rationalised towards community safety by redirecting money from incarceration to increased community supervision and policing
    • Reform is consistent with traditional moral principles like personal responsibility, redemption, and just punishment.

Addressing over-incarceration

  • Punishment reform for nonviolent offenders: increasing the use of community-based corrections and rehabilitation services for those who are of little risk to the community.
  • Justice reinvestment: redirecting money slated for incarceration to other parts of the criminal justice system more likely to reduce crime and recidivism.
  • Reduce recidivism by emphasising employment: reentry services should include job
    training and removing barriers to employment for ex-prisoners.
  • Criminal justice programs should be evidence-based, with reliable data collection and performance tracking.

Addressing over-criminalisation

  • More than 20 American states have passed mens rea reform, restoring the requirement of culpability to a wide range of criminal actions.
  • Regulatory criminal law often functions as a form of red tape with compliance costs passed on to consumers. The number of criminal provisions on the statute books is unknown, but a great many productive activities are potentially subject to criminal sanction.

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