A clearly written, optimistic road map for moving beyond mass incarceration.
Berman and Adler are directors at the Center for Court Innovation, a think tank that “has created a broad range of alternative-to-incarceration and crime prevention programs in the New York area.” Their thesis is that such finely grained responses can change the ongoing narrative of racially discriminatory penalties, which have led to the current crisis in overimprisonment. They argue their focus in this book is not theoretical but relies on “real-life reforms that state and local policymakers and practitioners can make in the here and now to reduce our reliance on incarceration.” These are expressed in eight brief, punchy chapters, each built around an opening graph or statistic—e.g., a breakdown of who is behind bars or distinctions between high- and low-risk offenders. These lead into examinations of actual narratives of specific cities, such as community-based responses to Newark’s “horrible” municipal jail. There, attempts were made “to offer alternatives to jail and fines for misdemeanors,” changing the overall dynamic. Similarly, the authors argue that the public should accept a different definition of risk than the tough-on-crime model. “Researchers have documented that there are safe and effective alternatives to incarceration….At the heart of the Risk-Need-Responsivity model,” they write, “is the idea that it is possible to make more informed decisions about who is potentially dangerous and who isn’t.” Looking at Rikers Island, which some politicians wish to close, they note “perhaps the best hope for reducing New York City’s jail population is a new, citywide pretrial supervised release program.” They cover similar programs elsewhere to address domestic abuse and parole violation, finding surprising innovations in conservative states like Utah and Mississippi. Their case studies are well-researched and derived from activism and scholarship as well as the rehabilitative experiences of offenders, but their perspective remains realistic. They admit, “undoing America’s over reliance on incarceration will be difficult.”
A brisk, thoughtful guide to mass incarceration alternatives, of interest to activists, lawyers, and forward-thinking law enforcement professionals.