New Criminal Justice Tools

In order to improve public safety, we need to abandon incarceration as a one-size-fits-all solution to crime. Criminal justice professionals need to be equipped with a range of tools to prevent crime and to address the underlying causes of crime.

First, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership supports legal reform to remove public health issues from the criminal justice system.

Harshly punishing drug users and dealers has not reduced the availability or use of drugs in America despite the enormous law enforcement resources it requires. We can have safer and healthier communities, as well as a smaller and more effective criminal justice system, by reforming our drug laws and addressing drug use through the public health system.

Second, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership supports implementing programs that prevent individuals from becoming involved in crime in the first place.

Roughly two-thirds of all prison inmates dropped out of high school.1 Research suggests that we can reduce crime by investing in early childhood education and helping more students graduate from high school.2 One study estimates that raising the male graduation rate by ten percent would lower murder and assault rates by 20 percent.3 By investing in childhood education, we can both strengthen communities and increase public safety.

It is unsafe and wasteful for jails to be the primary facilities housing individuals in need of mental health and drug treatment. Research shows that we can keep most of this population out of the criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, and prevent crime by redirecting funding from our prisons to our drug treatment and mental health clinics.4 The Housing First program also prevents crime by providing housing to chronically homeless individuals. Housing First is proven to reduce criminal offenses by clients, more than half of whom have prior convictions.5

Many victims of traumatic crimes go on to commit crimes.6 In fact, exposure to child physical and sexual abuse or to gun violence roughly doubles the chance that an individual will commit crimes later in life.7 We also know that eight out of ten violent crime victims report symptoms of trauma,8 which can lead to PTSD and future violence if it is not treated.9 However, only a third of all violent crime survivors receive any form of treatment or mental health support.10 Trauma recovery centers address this issue by providing mental health treatment, counseling, relocation assistance and compensation support for crime survivors.11 These centers can both heal their wounds and prevent future crime.

Youth who live in high crime neighborhoods often face pressure to join gangs to protect themselves and survive a hostile, violent environment. Youth loyal to rival gangs are trapped in such vicious cycles of revenge that the leading cause of death among young black men today is homicide.12 To prevent gang-related homicide, the city of Richmond, CA identified heavily gang-involved youth and provided them with mentors, counseling, jobs, and seed funding to turn their lives around. Homicide in Richmond has dropped by 50 percent since the city began intensively mentoring and investing in its gang-involved youth.13

For individuals who do commit crimes, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership supports diversion programs. These programs divert those who commit crimes related to substance abuse and mental health issues from the criminal justice system into intensive, wraparound rehabilitation programs that confront the root causes of their crimes.

The LEAD program empowers specially trained patrol officers to divert individuals struggling with drug addiction and homelessness into intensive support programs instead of jailing them. LEAD case managers help these individuals access addiction and mental health treatment, health care, shelter, food, housing, education, and job training. Evaluations of the LEAD program in King County, WA have found that LEAD reduces recidivism, felony crime, homelessness, and unemployment.14

Miami-Dade’s Criminal Mental Health Project (CMHP), the leading example of pre-booking mental health diversion, directs emergency calls that may involve a mentally ill offender to trained officers. These officers bring in the offenders for mental health evaluation, diverting those who need help from jail to support services that include medication, counseling, vocational training, help with government benefits, and housing. CMHP has been shown to significantly reduce recidivism, incarceration, and criminal justice spending.15

Restorative justice conferences bring together offenders, crime survivors, family members, and community members so that the offenders can take responsibility for their actions and reach reconciliation with the crime survivors, their families, and their communities. Approximately 95 percent of victim-offender mediations reach consensus on the appropriate punishment.16 In contrast to the traditional justice system, which encourages the offender to feign innocence, assassinate the crime survivor’s character, and feel self-pity, restorative justice forces the perpetrator to listen to the crime survivor, respond, and take responsibility for his or her actions. Restorative conferences are proven to reduce reoffending rates, while saving significant justice system resources.17 In Massachusetts, the Middlesex County Restorative Justice Diversion Program gives juvenile perpetrators the opportunity to take responsibility for their crimes, repair the harms to victims, and address the root causes of their crime.18

In San Francisco, if the perpetrator of a misdemeanor is ready to take responsibility for the crime, the case can be referred to the Neighborhood Court, a panel of volunteer adjudicators from the same neighborhood. The adjudicators hear from the perpetrator and the victim and discuss the impact of the crime on the community. They then issue directives, such as community service or restitution, to repair the harm caused by the incident. The process is effective because it proceeds swiftly, allows the victim to be heard, forces the perpetrator to take responsibility, and is handled within the community.

Roughly half the people in jail are incarcerated because they cannot afford bail, not because they are dangerous or a flight risk.19 Pre-trial detention of the poor crowds our jails and plunges families into crisis without improving public safety. Ending financial bail will still keep those who threaten public safety behind bars, while allowing others to return home and provide for their families until their cases can be heard.

Arresting and jailing individuals for behavior that should be dealt with outside the justice system is most common in communities of color. Black people are punished more harshly than white people for the same crimes, from students in elementary school to juvenile offenders and adults.20 For example, white and black people use and sell drugs at similar rates,21 but black people are significantly more likely to be arrested, convicted, and incarcerated on drug charges.22 Studies link these disparities to unconscious bias, since most people perceive black kids as older and guiltier than white kids23 and support harsher punishment when the offenders are black.24 To address the root causes of crime and improve public safety, we must examine the role that race plays in our justice system.

Fourth, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership supports reforms that reduce excessive prison sentences.

State policies, not crime levels, are the biggest drivers of rising incarceration rates. State incarceration rates have risen primarily because states are sending a much larger share of offenders to prison and keeping them there longer.  States can reduce their incarceration rates – without harming public safety – by reclassifying low-level felonies to misdemeanors where appropriate, shortening jail and prison terms, and expanding the use of alternatives to prison.

We also need to restore each judge’s ability to decide sentences that will improve public safety by addressing the root causes of crime. Judges are currently prevented from weighing common sense factors to determine the most appropriate sentence for each defendant by legislative barriers including mandatory minimum sentences, sentencing enhancements, and sentencing guidelines.

When judges and parole board experts agree that someone no longer needs to be incarcerated, that person should be allowed to return home. Yet their decisions are blocked by federal Truth in Sentencing legislation and by governors afraid of political backlash. The federal prison system does not even offer parole. We should reinstate federal parole and restore control over parole decisions to those who will focus on public safety, not political convenience.

Finally, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership supports programs, both in prison and after release, that reduce recidivism by ensuring that each prisoner’s reentry is productive and safe for their community.

We must provide education, job training, life skills, counseling, treatment, and mental health care so that prisoners are prepared to make a positive impact upon release. Among other successes, education programs in prison have been shown to reduce recidivism by 8-10 percent.25

Thousands of Americans are returned to prison every year for violating the technical rules of their parole or probation—through a hearing in which they have no right to a lawyer—though they did not commit a new crime. Our probation and parole systems punish them for minor rule violations that we know they are all likely to commit. We must reform the probation and parole systems to stop this unnecessary pipeline back to prison.

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  1. Alliance for Excellent Education. “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings.” Alliance for Excellent Education report, September 12, 2013. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://all4ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/SavingFutures.pdf.
  2. Stephen Machin, Olivier Marie, and Sunčica Vujić. “The Crime Reducing Effect of Education.” IZA Discussion Paper No. 5000, June 2010. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://repec.iza.org/dp5000.pdf.Eileen M. O’Brien and Chuck Dervarics. “Pre-Kindergarten: What the Research Shows.” Center for Public Education website, March 2007. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Pre-kindergarten/Pre-Kindergarten/Pre-kindergarten-What-the-research-shows.html.
  3. Enrico Moretti. “Does Education Reduce Participation in Criminal Activities?” Presentation at Columbia University Teachers College Symposium on the “Social Costs of Inadequate Education,” October 24-25, 2005. Accessed January 13, 2017 at https://www.tc.columbia.edu/centers/EquitySymposium/symposium/resourceDetails.asp?PresId=6.
  4. Christine Vestal. “Waiting Lists Grow for Medicine to Fight Opioid Addiction.” Pew Charitable Trusts Stateline, February 11, 2016. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2016/02/11/waiting-lists-grow-for-medicine-to-fight-opioid-addiction Shawn LaFrance. “Waiting for Help: Barriers to Timely Access for People with Mental Health Care Needs.” Foundation for Healthy Communities website, April 29, 2014. Accessed January 13, 2017 at https://www.naminh.org/sites/default/files/Summary%20Report%2004%2028%2014%20Waiting%20for%20Help%20FINAL2.pdf.
  5. Julian M. Somers, Stefanie N. Rezansoff, Akm Moniruzzaman, Anita Palepu, and Michelle Patterson. “Housing First Reduces Re-offending among Formerly Homeless Adults with Mental Disorders: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial.” PLOS One, September 4, 2013. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0072946
  6. Jennifer N. Shaffer and R. Barry Ruback. “Violent Victimization as a Risk Factor for Violent Offending Among Juveniles.” US Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Juvenile Justice Bulletin, December 2002. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://static.prisonpolicy.org/scans/ojjdp/195737.pdf
  7. Janet Currie, Erdal Tekin. “Does Child Abuse Cause Crime?” NBER Working Paper No. 12171, April 2006. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://www.nber.org/digest/jan07/w12171.html.
  8. Alliance for Safety and Justice. “Crime Survivors Speak.” Alliance for Safety and Justice report, 2016. Accessed January 13, 2017 at https://www.allianceforsafetyandjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/documents/Crime%20Survivors%20Speak%20Report.pdf
  9. Nilamadhab Kar. “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Review.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 7 (2011): 167–181. Accessed January 13, 2017 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3083990/
  10. Alliance for Safety and Justice. “Crime Survivors Speak.” Alliance for Safety and Justice report, 2016. Accessed January 13, 2017 athttps://www.allianceforsafetyandjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/documents/Crime%20Survivors%20Speak%20Report.pdf
  11. UCSF. “Trauma Recovery Center.” UCSF Trauma Recovery Center website, 2017. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://traumarecoverycenter.org/
  12. Danielle Sered. “Young Men of Color and the Other Side of Harm.” Vera Institute of Justice report, December 2014. Accessed January 13, 2017 at https://www.vera.org/publications/young-men-of-color-and-the-other-side-of-harm-addressing-disparities-in-our-responses-to-violence
  13. Richard Gonzales. “To Reduce Gun Violence, Potential Offenders Offered Support And Cash.” National Public Radio, March 28, 2016. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://www.npr.org/2016/03/28/472138377/to-reduce-gun-violence-potential-offenders-offered-support-and-cash
  14. Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion."LEAD Evaluation." Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion website. Accessed 12 Jan. 2017 at http://leadkingcounty.org/lead-evaluation/.
  15. Chang, Daniel. “Criminal mental health program in Miami-Dade seen as a model for nation” The Miami Herald. 21 May. 2016. Accessed 12 Jan. 2017 at http://www.miamiherald.com/news/health-care/article79004057.html
  16. The United States Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. “Restorative Justice”  Office of Justice Programs website. Nov. 2010. Accessed 13 Jan 2017 at https://www.ojjdp.gov/mpg/litreviews/Restorative_Justice.pdf.
  17. Sherman, Lawrence, and Strang, Heather. “Restorative Justice: The Evidence”. The Smith Institute. 2007. Accessed 13 Jan. 2017 at http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf
  18. Our RJ. “Middlesex County Restorative Justice Diversion Program.” Our RJ website, n.d. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://ourrj.org/programs/
  19. Wagner, Peter. “Jails matter. But who is listening?”  The Prison Policy Initiative website. 14 Aug. 2015.  Accessed 13 Jan. 2017 at http://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2015/08/14/jailsmatter/
  20. Christopher Hartney and Linh Vuong. “Created Equal.” National Council on Crime and Deliquency Report, March 2009. Accessed January 13, 2017, at http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/created-equal.pdf US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. “Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot: School Discipline.” US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Issue Brief No. 1, March 21, 2014. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://ocrdata.ed.gov/Downloads/CRDC-School-Discipline-Snapshot.pdf.
  21. SAMHSA. “Table 1.19B.” National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2012. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://archive.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2012SummNatFindDetTables/DetTabs/NSDUH-DetTabsSect1peTabs1to46-2012.htm#Tab1.19B. Howard N. Snyder and Melissa Sickmund. “Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report.” National Center for Juvenile Justice report, March 2006. Accessed January 13, 2017 at https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/nr2006/downloads/nr2006.pdf.
  22. Human Rights Watch. “Decades of Disparity Drug Arrests and Race in the United States.” Human Rights Watch report, March 2009. Accessed January 13, 2017 at https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us0309web_1.pdf. Sonja B. Starr and M. Marit Rehavi. “Mandatory Sentencing and Racial Disparity: Assessing the Role of Prosecutors and the Effects of Booker.” Yale Law Journal 123(1), October 2013. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://www.yalelawjournal.org/article/mandatory-sentencing-and-racial-disparity-assessing-the-role-of-prosecutors-and-the-effects-of-booker.
  23. American Psychological Association. “Black Boys Viewed as Older, Less Innocent Than Whites, Research Finds.” American Psychological Association website, March 6, 2014. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/03/black-boys-older.aspx.
  24. Nazgol Ghandnoosh. “Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crim and Support for Punitive Policies.” Sentencing Project report, 2014. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/app/uploads/2015/09/Report-Race-and-Punishment.pdf.
  25. Stephen J. Steurer and Linda G. Smith. “Education Reduces Crime.” Correctional Education Association report, 2006. Accessed January 13, 2017 at http://www.ceanational.org/PDFs/EdReducesCrime.pdf