Public Safety Requires Justice Reform: Researchers – The Crime Report

Public Safety Requires Justice Reform: Researchers – The Crime Report



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Justice reform and public safety are “not opposite ends of a spectrum,” but are mutually dependent, according to a series of papers commissioned by Arnold Ventures.

The papers, written by eight of the country’s leading criminologists, were commissioned in an effort to address an increasingly polarized political climate, in which rising violent crime rates are now attributed to the relaxation of hardline sentencing and punishment strategies in many jurisdictions.

“Partisan politicians and pundits continue to insist, despite research and common sense showing otherwise, that local criminal justice reforms are responsible for [the spike in homicides],” Arnold Ventures said in an introductory essay to the series.

“Firm explanations for the causes for the crime spike are premature and challenging due to data limitations, which undoubtedly complicates the efforts of policymakers who need to take quick action to address violence.”

The papers in the Arnold series, however, demonstrate “that reform and safety are not opposite ends of a spectrum, but can operate in tandem.”

Editor’s note: Recent analyses revealed that the number of homicides and other violent crime declined slightly in 2022, but it is too soon to conclude that the historic increase that began in 2020 has reversed.

More pointedly, the scholars’ work on areas ranging from policing reform to pretrial detention and community supervision show that many of the practices now widely used in across the justice system are “inefficient, produce serious harms, and operate in ways that are counterproductive to community safety,” Arnold Ventures said.

The criminologists were asked to apply two questions to their specific areas of expertise:

  • How does a particular aspect of the justice system advance or undermine community safety?
  • What is your summary or assessment of the evidence, and are there remaining research questions that need to be answered?

The areas covered by the scholars include community intervention strategies, law enforcement reform, changes in pretrial detention and bail policies, community supervision, mass incarceration, and post-conviction restrictions.

Access to all six papers are  available through the following links:

 Shani Buggs, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis, on  how sustained reductions in violence require investing in the people and neighborhoods most impacted by violence through adequately funded community-based violence intervention efforts.

Aaron Chalfin, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, discusses how investments in law enforcement are a scalable and effective strategy to maintain public safety, particularly when their efforts are focused on the places and people at the highest risk of violent crime.

Sandra Susan Smith, Ph.D., of Harvard University, examined the pretrial detention, finding the costs far outweigh its benefits for the vast majority of people brought into the system. She cited the extensive harms done to people detained, their families, and the communities in which they live.

 Jennifer Doleac, Ph.D., of Texas A&M University, and Michael LaForest Ph.D., of Penn State  explored the impact of community supervision (probation and parole) on community safety. They found that  despite the scale of its use as a sanction for criminal behavior and alternative to incarceration, community supervision had limited impact.

In a paper entitled, Incarceration & Public Safety, Daniel Nagin, Ph.D. of Carnegie Mellon University  concluded that current incarceration practices in the United States, particularly multi-decade sentences, are “an inefficient use of public resources and are not shown by evidence to have a deterrent effect on crime. “

In their paper entitled Collateral Consequences & Public Safety, Megan Denver and  Abigail Ballou of Northeastern University discuss how widespread post-conviction sanctions, restrictions, and disqualifications for individuals with criminal records and histories of justice system involvement can interact and accumulate in ways that are counterproductive to safety.

The series said the work of all eight scholafs points up the disquieting fact that the largest negative impact of flawed justice policies continues to be born disproportionately by communities of color.

“Policymakers and the public alike are waking up to the reality that, even during recent periods of historically low violent crime, gun violence and homicides have been concentrated in economically disadvantaged Black and Brown neighborhoods, and among young Black and Brown men,” the essay said.

“For decades, the government has failed to provide the support and investment these neighborhoods need to be safe and thrive. In these communities, relationships with police and the justice system have been defined by a history of marginalization, coercion, and control and a lack of mutual trust and cooperation.”

The full series can be downloaded here.

Public Safety Requires Justice Reform: Researchers – The Crime Report

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