The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the developed world with approximately 700 out of 100,000 people in jail or prison, but it is not clear that high incarceration rates necessarily translate to lower crime rates. With such high rates of incarceration, projections indicate that by 2020 federal prisons will crowd out crime-prevention programs in the Department of Justice budget. Furthermore, our current criminal justice system leaves too many young parents in prison, destroying the fabric of the family and contributing to an intergenerational cycle of incarceration. America’s incarceration rate should come down.
According to Vikrant Reddy, conservatives are well poised to bring needed reforms to our criminal justice system while simultaneously promoting public safety. He points to successful reform efforts that conservative governors in Georgia, South Dakota, and Texas have undertaken.
Reddy provides the elements of a new agenda for criminal justice. First, we must improve community corrections services, which include work release programs and halfway houses, and employ appropriate risk assessments for suitable inmates. These measures would enhance inmates’ chances at successful reentry, allow them to lead more productive lives in their communities, and generate cost savings. Second, we should provide offenders with greater opportunities to improve themselves by resisting truth-in-sentencing policies, which provide inmates with few incentives for self-improvement, and by scaling back mandatory minimum sentences, which deny judges their discretion and do not appear to reduce crime. Finally, policymakers should reverse the trend of over-federalization in our criminal justice system. The wide swath of federal criminal statutes and regulations that carry criminal penalties as well as a lack of mens rea protections have left millions of Americans unknowingly committing obscure crimes. Reviewing federal criminal statutes, eliminating unnecessary and redundant crimes, and restoring mens rea protections would help scale back the long reach of the federal government in our penal system.