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Common Justice - Accounting for Violence Fact Sheet, 2017

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Accounting for Violence:
How to Increase Safety and Break
Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration

February 2017
Fact Sheet

Violence and mass incarceration in the United States are inextricably connected, although research shows that both can be
reduced at the same time. To address violence and rely less on incarceration, a new vision is needed, one that also promotes
healing among crime survivors and improves public safety. Four principles should guide policies and practices that aim to
reduce violence: They should be survivor-centered, based on accountability, safety-driven, and racially equitable.

Principle 1:
Responses to violence should be

Principle 2:
Responses to violence should be
based on accountability.

In practice, this means:

In practice, this means:

›› creating conduits to care for survivors who report to and
engage law enforcement and for those who do not;

›› rejecting punishment for punishment’s sake in favor of
solutions that prioritize responsibility and repair;

›› developing effective means of holding people accountable within the criminal justice system and beyond to
increase safety in the short and long term;

›› developing alternatives to prison to hold people meaningfully accountable to those harmed by their actions;

›› addressing the socioeconomic and structural factors that
make violence likely in the first place; and
›› reducing unnecessary prison sentences and reinvesting
savings in efforts that promote prevention and healing.
Reducing violence will require listening to the full range
of people who survive harm and reckoning honestly with
the role prisons do or do not play in delivering safety and
healing. None of this requires excluding or minimizing
the legitimate perspectives of crime victims who want
punishment and retribution; it only requires including other
perspectives as well.

›› using parole and early release as methods to motivate
and reward change within prisons; and
›› addressing social and historical harms that have made
violence likely and engaging those who are most affected
in the process of defining how to repair those harms.
A society is justified in wanting accountability when someone is harmed — not just because it is right, but also because
it works. Accountability stands to change behavior in ways
punishment cannot. So there is great reason to be hopeful: as
these approaches begin to replace hollow punishment with
meaningful accountability, we can build systems that deliver
on the promise of safety and can expect to see less violence
as a result of these responses.

About Common Justice
Common Justice develops and advances
solutions to violence that transform the lives of
those harmed and foster racial equity without
relying on incarceration.

Locally, we operate the first alternative to
incarceration and victim service program in
the United States to focus on violent felonies
in the adult courts. Nationally, we leverage the
lessons from our direct service to transform
the justice system through partnerships,

540 Atlantic Avenue, 4th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11217

advocacy, and elevating the experience and
power of those most impacted. Rigorous and
hopeful, we build practical strategies to hold
people accountable for harm, break cycles
of violence, and secure safety, healing, and
justice for survivors and their communities.

Principle 3:
Responses to violence should be

Principle 4:
Responses to violence should be
racially equitable.

In practice, this means:

In practice, this means:

›› reckoning honestly with the limitations of incarceration
to produce safety;

›› addressing the underlying and historical inequities that
make violence likely in the first place;

›› developing a more nuanced understanding of the types of
violence and the interventions that work to prevent and
address them;

›› eliminating racial disparities in criminal justice decision
making, from arrest to sentence to parole;

›› choosing the most effective interventions — even when
they are not the most punitive; and
›› redirecting investments to strengthen the communitylevel infrastructure that helps prevent violence in the
first place.
Committing to a safety-driven response to violence means
abandoning an overreliance on prison not simply because
incarceration causes so much harm, but equally because it
doesn’t deliver the outcomes everyone deserves. Committing
to safety means committing to pragmatism rather than
emotionality, to what works rather than what sells, and to
outcomes rather than rhetoric.

›› holding people accountable equally, including system and
law enforcement actors who cause serious harm; and
›› distributing resources for healing and recovery equally
to survivors of all races and ethnicities.
Any path to creating racial equity will reject extreme and
disproportionate punishment — and will foster prevention
efforts, community infrastructure, and the resources to
help people heal and thrive. What is more, advancing racial
equity is in itself a violence reduction strategy, as it has been
widely documented that it is not simple poverty or lack of
opportunity but inequity that drives crime and violence. We
should therefore consider grappling with and repairing our
history and present realities of racial oppression as a potentially transformative evidence-informed strategy to reduce

For more information
© Vera Institute of Justice 2017. All rights
The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice
reform change agent. Vera produces ideas,
analysis, and research that inspire change in
the systems people rely upon for safety and

justice, and works in close partnership with
government and civic leaders to implement
it. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities
of ending the misuse of jails, transforming
conditions of confinement, and ensuring
that justice systems more effectively serve
America’s increasingly diverse communities.

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To read this report, visit
For more information, contact Danielle Sered,
director of Common Justice, at

212 334 1300