Criminal Justice Reform

Criminal Justice Reform

What kind of policing and criminal justice system allows people to live in dignity?

The Challenge

The number of people incarcerated in the United States has ballooned by 500 percent over the last 40 years. Ninety percent of these people will one day leave prison and face the challenge of reintegrating into their communities as productive citizens.

Our Goal

Our communities are safest when the criminal justice system respects human dignity. That means achieving justice for victims as well as ensuring that people leaving prison have opportunities to succeed on the outside. We support reforms that improve communication between police and citizens and that reduce recidivism by removing barriers to opportunity.

Our Focus

We focus on areas that will have the greatest impact on criminal justice reform:

Overcriminalization

Thousands of seemingly ordinary activities, like shipping lobsters in the wrong kind of container and shampooing hair without a license, are classified as crimes. We shouldn’t criminalize so many things, and jail should be reserved for people who pose a threat to public safety. Criminal laws should distinguish between intentional acts, reckless acts, and accidents.

Policing Practices

Trust and collaboration are important in solving crime and protecting the public. Policies like civil asset forfeiture and the overuse of military equipment and tactics create bad incentives for officers and jeopardize people’s civil liberties. Community trust can grow when police act as peace officers and focus resources on preventing and solving serious crime.

Due Process

When a person is accused of a crime, the government must uphold constitutional protections, such as the right to an attorney and the restrictions against excessive bail and fines.

Sentencing

Too many people go to prison—often for far too long—for low-level, nonviolent crimes. People who break the law should be held accountable, but the punishment should fit the crime.

Second Chances

Thousands of laws erect barriers for those with a criminal record to getting jobs and rejoining their communities with dignity, increasing the likelihood of recidivism.

Rethinking the way we classify and handle property and drug crimes—as many states have done in recent years—can free up funds that are currently used for incarceration. These funds can be spent on better law enforcement and stopping violent crimes before they happen.

Vikrant Reddy, Senior Research Fellow

Learn More

Dive Deeper

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