A culture of punishment, combined with race- and class-based animus, has led the United States to rely on incarceration more heavily than any other country in the world does. The politicization of criminal justice policy and a lack of evidence-based assessment result in a one-way ratchet in which law and policy grow ever more punitive. The human and financial costs of mass incarceration are staggering, and the burden falls disproportionately on the poor and people of color. However, the recent fiscal crisis and years of falling crime rates have combined to create the best opportunity in decades to challenge our nation’s addiction to incarceration.
The population in American prisons and jails has tripled in the past 15 years. It now tops two million. It arose from decades of policies that toughened sentencing laws and emphasized an American war on drugs.
This has left our facilities overcrowded, the medical systems overwhelmed and the work, education, and treatment programs inadequate. The consequence is idleness and stress that leads to greater levels of violence. We are working to change these conditions through successful litigation on behalf of those who are incarcerated.