Since President Richard Nixon first announced the “War on Drugs” 40 years ago, the United States has adopted “tough on crime” criminal justice policies that have given it the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. These past 40 years of criminal justice policymaking have been characterized by overcriminalization, increasingly draconian sentencing and parole regimes, mass incarceration of impoverished communities of color, and rapid prison building. These policies have also come at a great expense to taxpayers. But budget shortfalls of historic proportions are finally prompting states across the country to realize that less punitive approaches to criminal justice not only make more fiscal sense but also better protect our communities.
This report highlights six traditionally “tough on crime” states — Texas, Mississippi, Kansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio — that recently passed significant bipartisan reforms to reduce their prison populations and budgets. These states experienced declines in their crime rates while these new policies were in place. The report also highlights national trends in criminal justice legislation and offers a number of recommended ways that lawmakers in other states can reform their pre-trial, sentencing, parole, and probation systems. Smart Reform is Possible serves as an exciting and essential blueprint for states on the cusp of considering the reform of their corrections systems.
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