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

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


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, 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.

Suggested Citation
Danielle Sered. Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on
Mass Incarceration. New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2017.

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



Confronting the question of violence


A new vision for justice


Principle 1: Responses should be survivor-centered


Principle 2: Responses should be accountability-based


Principle 3: Responses should be safety-driven


Principle 4: Responses should be racially equitable


The vision in practice

30 	 Conclusion
31	Endnotes

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


Confronting the question
of violence


he United States faces two distinct but interconnected challenges:
violence and mass incarceration.
Ensuring safety is an urgent and essential responsibility of a society
and is a core dimension of delivering on the promise of justice. The United
States has been remiss in attempts to fulfill that responsibility because of
an overreliance on incarceration as the primary pathway to ensuring safety.
Substantially reducing violence will require acknowledging the limitations
of prisons as a strategy to deliver safety or justice. And ending mass
incarceration in America will require taking on the question of violence.

Mass incarceration cannot end violence.
We cannot incarcerate our way out of violence. That is in part because
incarceration is an inadequate and often counterproductive tool to
transform those who have committed violence or protect those who
have been harmed. It is neither the most effective way to change people
nor the most effective way to keep people safe. Its standing in society
is based largely on its role in protecting people from violence and those
who commit it, but as a violence intervention strategy, it fails to deliver
the outcomes all people deserve — at great human and financial cost.
Increasingly, this message is being sounded not only by justice reformers,
but by crime survivors themselves.
Prison is also limited as a tool because incarceration treats violence as a
problem of “dangerous” individuals and not as a problem of social context
and history. Most violence is not just a matter of individual pathology — it
is created. Poverty drives violence.1 Inequity drives violence.2 Lack of
opportunity drives violence.3 Shame and isolation drive violence.4 And
like so many conditions known all too well to public health professionals,


Common Justice

violence itself drives violence.5
In the United States, many policies have in fact nurtured violence — by
exacerbating the very things that drive it, including poverty, instability,
substandard education, and insufficient housing.6 For evidence of
this pattern one can look to long-standing policies and practices
that perpetuate these drivers of violence in communities across the
country — communities where people disproportionately live below the
poverty line, including parents working multiple jobs whose employment
still does not guarantee them a living wage. One can look at massive,
growing investments in law enforcement at a time when public education
and health care systems are struggling to meet basic needs.7 One can look
at union busting, food deserts, and predatory lending.8 These problems
are compounded by limited and broken ideas of “manhood” that equate
strength with wealth and violence in places where wealth is almost
completely unattainable but violence is an option at every turn.9
Not only does incarceration fail to interrupt these drivers, it intensifies
them — interrupting people’s education, rendering many homeless upon
return from prison, limiting their prospects for employment and a living
wage, and disrupting the social fabric that is the strongest protection
against harm, even in the face of poverty.10 On the individual level, violence
is driven by shame, isolation, exposure to violence, and an inability to
meet one’s economic needs — factors that are also the core features of
imprisonment. This means that the core national violence prevention
strategy relies on a tool that has as its basis the central drivers of violence.
Nearly all poor communities bear the brunt of policy choices that have
nurtured violence. In communities of color, the detrimental impact of
these policies is amplified by historical and present injustices. These harms
included colonization, continued with slavery and its more proximate
counterpart, convict leasing, and persist with the more recent phenomenon
of redlining — the practice of refusing loans or insurance to people
because they live in areas deemed to be “poor financial risks” — a practice
applied almost exclusively in communities of color.11 These institutions
and policies were supported by widespread violence, including lynchings,
the burning of churches, and mob attacks that rarely met with punishment
and often met with the tacit or active sanction of government and police.12
Exacerbating the divestment from, harm to, and under-protection of
communities of color is a concurrent investment in unevenly applied
law enforcement — practices rife with disparities from stop-and-frisk all
the way through sentencing and parole, which means that at strikingly
disproportionate rates, communities of color bear the brunt of the justice
system’s failure.13
Mass incarceration also fails to solve the problem of violence because it
Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration


is a response that treats violence as a matter of “good vs. evil.” The reality
is far more complicated. Nearly everyone who commits violence has also
survived it, and few have gotten formal support to heal.14 Although people’s
history of victimization in no way excuses the harm they cause, it does
implicate our society for not having addressed their pain earlier. And just
as people who commit violence are not exempt from victimization, many
survivors of violence have complex lives, imperfect histories, and even
criminal convictions.15 But just as it would be wrong to excuse people’s
actions simply because they were previously victimized, it is also wrong
to ignore someone’s victimization because the person previously broke a
law or committed harm in the past. Such a response to violence reinforces
the notion that some people deserve to be hurt — the exact thinking about
violence that should be uprooted.

We cannot end mass incarceration
without tackling violence
Just as we cannot incarcerate our way out of violence, we cannot reform
our way out of mass incarceration without taking on the question of
The United States sits at the crest of two rising tides. The recent
presidential campaign brought a resurgence of “law and order” rhetoric and
calls for harsher punishment. But at the same time (and in some cases, even
in the same place), a consensus and growing momentum have emerged
to end the nation’s globally unique overreliance on incarceration. This
momentum is in response to the stories and evidence demonstrating the
devastating effects of jail and prison on people and communities. It is the
product of decades of advocacy and organizing efforts — particularly on
the part of those most impacted by the criminal justice system — which
have commanded new allies and more energetic support in recent years. In
2016 alone, major strides in criminal justice reform were made, including
victories like Proposition 57 in California and State Questions 780 and
781 in Oklahoma, which stand to dramatically reduce their state prison
populations.16 Voters elected progressive candidates as local prosecutors
and sheriffs in places like Illinois, Florida, Texas, and Arizona — outcomes
that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.17 Although federal
policy is influential in setting both law and tone, criminal justice remains
largely a state-based and local issue — and often a bipartisan one. So there
remains reason to be hopeful.
But there is a problem. As consensus and momentum to end mass
incarceration have grown, the current reform narrative, though compelling,


Common Justice

has been based on a fallacy: that the United States can achieve large‑scale
transformative change (that is, reductions of 50 percent or more) by
changing responses to nonviolent offenses. That is impossible in a nation
where 53 percent of people incarcerated were convicted of violent crimes.18
In New York State, for instance, where some of the country’s most
substantial reductions in incarceration for drug offenses have already
occurred, reducing by half either the number of people incarcerated for
drug crimes or the time they serve would decrease the prison population
by only 1 percent by 2021.19 Although these types of reforms are essential,
the country will not get anywhere close to reducing the number of people
incarcerated by 50 percent — or better, to 1970s levels — without taking on
the issue that most of these campaigns avoid: the question of violence. It is
not just a matter of morality and strategy, though it is both of those things.
It is a matter of numbers.20

A new vision for justice


o succeed in the newly emerging political landscape, people
committed to reform will have to put forward a clear and resolute
vision that includes everyone whose lives are at stake in the justice
system’s response to violence — one that speaks about violence in its
community and historical context and in a way that honors all crime
survivors and insists on racial equity.
When efforts to reduce the nation’s use of incarceration move beyond
a focus on nonviolent crime, they face a wide range of deep-seated and
well-known challenges, both political and practical. Such efforts come up
against the continued salience of “tough on crime” and “law and order”
rhetoric; the limited power of data as a tool to shape public opinion; deep
misconceptions about who crime survivors are and what they want;
persistent tentativeness of even forward-thinking elected officials to enter
this terrain; and the need to develop capacity to foster and demonstrate
solutions that can take its place.
But crossing the line and dealing with violence also opens up a range
of possibilities not otherwise available — possibilities that will be even
more essential in the current political landscape. It allows people to think
holistically about the communities profoundly affected by violence and
incarceration and not just about small segments of those neighborhoods.
It allows people to center the needs of crime survivors in their vision —
not tiptoe around them or engage them in a limited instrumental fashion.
Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration


And it allows people to envision a justice system that is not just smaller, but
truly transformed into the vehicle for accountability, safety, and justice that
everyone deserves.
Reclaiming accountability and safety in the service of equity and healing
will require that people do the following:
›› Demand and build a country where fewer people are harmed by

violence and fewer people are incarcerated.
›› Place regard for human dignity at the center of policies and practices.
›› Prioritize survivors’ needs for healing, safety, and justice.
›› Draw on the leadership, expertise, and authority of people most
impacted — including crime survivors, those who are or have been
incarcerated, and the loved ones of both.
›› Nurture community-led strategies that prevent trauma and violence,
create healthy communities, and help foster protection for everyone.
›› Make a commitment to real accountability for violence in a way that is
more meaningful and more effective than incarceration.
›› Engage in an honest reckoning with the current and historic role race
has played in the use of punishment in the United States.
›› Change the socioeconomic and structural conditions that make violence
likely in the first place.
›› Apply ingenuity, practicality, and problem-solving skills to the problem
of violence.
The framework offered here points a way forward for taking on the
question of violence in larger efforts to end mass incarceration and keep
communities safe while upholding fairness and human dignity. It suggests
that any policy or practice targeting violence should be survivor-centered,
accountability-based, safety-driven, and racially equitable. This report
outlines what each of these principles means and what they could look like
in practice.
However bold the vision presented here, it is not yet complete. This
analysis benefited deeply from the thinking of many colleagues and allies,
whose partnership, work, and conversations have shaped it profoundly.
But there is a long way to go. This paper is not intended to conclude a
conversation, but to begin one.


Common Justice

Principle 1: Responses should be


o talk responsibly about violence, it is essential to place the people
who survive it at the center. This does not currently happen.
Legislators have enacted draconian criminal justice laws in the names
of survivors.21 Others have drawn on crime victims’ stories to motivate
sympathy, horror, and outrage. But the one thing rarely done is to ask the
full range of survivors what they want.

Many survivors of violence do not report
to police
In considering victims’ experience of the criminal justice system, it is
necessary to begin with their decision whether to engage the system
at all. From 2006 to 2010, a full 52 percent of violent victimizations in
the United States went unreported.22 Even in the cases of most serious
violence, reporting rates were strikingly low; 43 percent of violent crime
victimizations in which the victim was injured went unreported, as well
as 42 percent of cases involving a weapon.23 Even 29 percent of cases
involving a serious injury (for example, when the victim was knocked
unconscious or sustained a broken bone, a gunshot or stab wound, or
internal injuries) went unreported to police.24 The reasons victims give for
not reporting to law enforcement include a belief that police could not or
would not do anything to help; a belief that the crime — even a violent
one — was not important enough to report; or, most commonly, a decision
to handle the victimization another way, such as reporting it to someone
else or addressing it privately.25
Even though people’s experience of victimization varies based on
their identity and where they live, these reporting patterns hold across
demographic groups.26 What is more, these estimates are widely regarded
as understating the issue, as they reflect the participation of only those
Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration


people reached by (and who decided to engage in) the National Crime
Victimization Survey. Those who do not interact with or have access to
systems of contact and care — or whose victimization is so minimized
that they do not even identify it as such — are not represented in these
already strikingly high numbers. When one considers the short- and longterm consequences of unaddressed violence — ranging from physical and
emotional pain for people harmed to cycles of violence that result when
harm is unaddressed — these rates point to a practical and moral crisis in
addressing the needs of crime survivors as well as a substantial challenge
to securing public safety.
Survivors make practical decisions about whether to engage law
enforcement based in part on whether they believe that doing so will
meet their needs for safety and justice. It has been widely documented
and debated that these beliefs are based in part on survivors’ views of the
police. But another factor is likely underestimated: survivors’ views of
jail and prison. What if the barriers to survivors reporting crime involve
a disbelief that the end result of the justice system’s involvement — the
incarceration of the person responsible — is right or will work? Thus far,
debate about the causes of underreporting has focused almost exclusively
on whether victims believe police involvement will make a difference.
The discussion has not yet examined the degree to which survivors
regard incarceration as an effective means of securing justice and safety.
If survivors do not believe that incarcerating people who hurt them will
result in greater safety or justice, why would they pick up the phone in the
first place?
At Common Justice, our decade of working with survivors has led
us to what may seem like a counterintuitive understanding: we believe
crime victims are among the constituencies with the greatest stake in
ending mass incarceration. Why? Most simply, because their safety, wellbeing, and sometimes even survival depend on the efficacy of responses to
violence, and incarceration is a largely ineffective response. Incarceration is
inadequate even in the limited number of cases in which it produces some
concrete benefit — and it is often devastating to survivors when its impact
is directly contrary to the aims of safety, healing, and justice that their
lives depend on. Survivors know this. They have paid the price for prison’s
failure with their pain.

Survivors are rarely heard in the justice
Even victims who do call the police often do not get what they seek


Common Justice

from the justice system. A significant portion of reported crimes do not
result in arrest, many arrests do not result in convictions, and the results
of convictions — including incarceration — often do not meet victims’
needs.27 Victims’ voices are almost never heard during this process.
Although trial may offer an opportunity for some victims to speak, nearly
95 percent of convictions nationally are arrived at by plea bargain, not
trial, so virtually no victims see a day in court.28 Their questions are
unanswered, their voices excluded, their input legally not required (with
the exception of victim impact statements, which have not been shown to
significantly affect sentencing outcomes), and their preferences frequently
disregarded.29 Many victims describe their experience of the justice
system as fundamentally re-traumatizing; many report being treated with
suspicion or hostility; and many report experiencing bias based on their
Current responses to survivors underrepresent or exclude some
groups of people. Young men of color, for instance, are among those
groups whose pain and preferences have not been sufficiently heard or
heeded in the public conversation about crime and punishment.31 (Data
collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of
Justice from 1996 through 2007 show that young black men were the
most likely to be victimized by violence overall in six of those 11 years.32)
Other survivors whose needs are often inadequately considered include
women of color, immigrants, the working poor, people with disabilities,
and LGBTQ individuals. Together, these survivors make up a substantial
portion of the people harmed in the United States.33 That said, they make up
an exceedingly small minority of the voices lifted up in the public debate
about crime and punishment. On a national scale, the understanding of
what victims want is artificially monolithic, and because it draws from a
nonrepresentative sample of crime victims, it is also largely distorted.

We must understand trauma and remove
barriers to healing
The impact of violence on victims extends far beyond the criminal justice
system’s reach. In addition to physical injury, violence has other lasting
physical and emotional consequences for those harmed. Many victims
of crime suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress.34 The impacts of
unaddressed trauma are far-reaching. Exposure to trauma can significantly
increase a person’s chances of developing a variety of medical conditions
such as cardiovascular and endocrine disease.35 Common responses to
traumatic experiences — including flashbacks triggered by sounds or

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


smells, trouble sleeping, a sense of danger even in safe spaces, and panic
attacks — can interrupt a student’s education, contribute to disciplinary
concerns, and diminish the chance of academic achievement.36 Similarly,
exposure to trauma can affect people’s ability to function effectively, do their
best at work, or obtain and keep a job.37 And some people who are harmed
and do not get well are more likely to commit violence themselves.38 Each
of these factors carries not only a human cost, but also a financial one.39
Without effective services and support, these costs have an impact on
social-service systems like law enforcement, hospitals, and public aid.
The services and support to help victims come through their pain
are often scarce — and they frequently leave out a significant portion
of survivors.40 A truly survivor‑centered response to violence would
include the broad availability of mental health treatment, counseling,
trauma-informed care, and culturally rooted healing practices, and would
emphasize the removal of barriers to accessing these supports. This
holds true not only for community-based services, but also for victims
compensation — in which the state reimburses survivors for costs such as
hospital bills associated with a crime. Despite widespread recognition that
many survivors do not believe that engaging law enforcement will make
them safer, the law nonetheless requires that victims “cooperate” with law
enforcement to receive this help.41 When that cooperation feels neither
safe nor just to victims, they are barred from getting key support to meet
their basic needs. Tying compensation and services to cooperation with
law enforcement is not a survivor-centered strategy; because it prioritizes
the apprehension and punishment of the person who caused the harm
over the needs and preferences of the person harmed, it is a distinctly
defendant‑centered approach to addressing crime.

So what do survivors want?
Crime survivors are often portrayed as irrational. In reality, many survivors
are highly pragmatic and often seek precisely the things that will help them
heal. Although survivors are not a monolithic group and many people feel
conflicted about what they want, they express common themes:
›› They want answers. These answers contribute to what the trauma

recovery field talks about as the formation of a “coherent narrative” —  a
story about what happened and why; a story that the survivor can
believe, make sense of, find some meaning in, and live with.
›› They want their voices heard. An opportunity to express one’s experience
and be heard is essential to forming a coherent narrative and having it
validated — both core elements of trauma recovery.


Common Justice

›› They want a sense of control relative to what happened to them. Trauma

is, most fundamentally, an experience of powerlessness. Having
experiences that counterbalance the sense of powerlessness with
some degree of power and control — including over the story and the
response to that harm — can contribute substantially to a survivor’s
healing process.
›› They want the person to repair the harm as well as they possibly can. It is
a basic human desire to want what is broken to be fixed, and to want
those who broke it to take responsibility for that repair however
possible. That repair greatly aids the healing process for survivors who
experience it.
›› And perhaps most essentially, they don’t want the person to hurt them or
anyone else ever again.42
The fundamental need for safety should not be equated with an appetite
for incarceration. Even though incarceration provides some people with a
temporary sense of safety from the person who harmed them or satisfies
a desire to see someone punished for wrongdoing — or both — many
victims find that the incarceration of that person makes them feel less
safe.43 For some, this is because they fear others in the community who
may be angry with them for their role in securing the responsible person’s
punishment. For others, it is because they know the person who harmed
them will eventually come home and they do not believe that he or she will
be better for having spent time in prison; to the contrary, they often believe
that incarceration will make the person worse. Many victims who live in
communities where incarceration is common are often dissatisfied with its
results.44 And even those victims who do want the incarceration of those
who hurt them are often disappointed by what it delivers in practice.45
Many survivors seek incarceration only to find later that it did not make
them safe and did not heal them in the way they had anticipated.46
Even in the context of what could be described as a four-decade media
and public education campaign promoting incarceration, the number
of victims who see it as an effective remedy is far smaller than public
discourse reflects.47 When it comes to punishment, survivors consistently
express a desire for options other than incarceration and an interest in
them when they are available. Yet the criminal justice system rarely offers
alternatives to prison as responses to violence. According to the Downstate
Coalition for Crime Victims in New York, “Survivors/victims want
the people who harm them to be held meaningfully accountable. Many
survivors/victims find the criminal justice system, including incarceration,
to be inadequate and/or counterproductive to that end.” What this
means in practice is that when the country relies almost exclusively on
Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration


incarceration to address serious crime, many survivors lose out.
What is more, survivors’ preferences about criminal justice policy are
only one part of their larger set of needs and desires — including real
hunger for solutions that have nothing to do with punishing the person
who hurt them. These priorities include safety, housing, trauma-informed
care, fair treatment, prevention, and having a real voice in potential
solutions. 48
One survivor’s experience
When Alberto and a group of his friends on the subway
threatened Pablo with an illegal weapon in East New York,
Brooklyn, neither could imagine how the situation would
end. When the case came to Common Justice, Pablo and
Alberto were both worried that the original incident, rooted in
a long-standing conflict in the neighborhood, would lead to
further incidents and losses—possibly even death—for people
on both sides. Alberto had been arrested and Pablo had
stopped consistently attending school and work to stay home
with his family members, whom he believed were at risk. 
When Pablo first chose Common Justice, he said, “I’m not
afraid of Alberto. He’s not the problem. The problem is the
short, loud one and the one with the braids.” Those two young
men had not been arrested, and Pablo believed that Alberto’s
incarceration would only heighten the tensions he’d had with
them. Pablo chose Common Justice because he thought it
might finally help put the conflict to rest.

Alberto was required to do a wide range of things by
participating in Common Justice, but one agreement
was especially important to Pablo: it required Alberto to
communicate to his two friends that Pablo and his family
should be protected from any violence, threat, or harm. It was
not an agreement the court could have required—but as an
independent program, Common Justice can reach further into
the community to get at the underlying causes of conflict.
Several weeks later, Alberto brought his two friends to
Common Justice, and communicated to them in front of staff,
“I respect Pablo. And I respect his family. And I expect you to
do the same.” He used the leverage of his reputation with his
peers to protect Pablo and his family. And it worked.

These views from New York align with national findings. In 2016,
the Alliance for Safety and Justice conducted the first national poll of
crime survivors that explores their preferences regarding criminal justice
policy. The poll found overwhelming support — even higher than among
the general public — for rehabilitative programming, alternatives to
incarceration, and shorter sentences, as well as greater investments in
education, mental health treatment, jobs programs, and drug treatment.
Roughly 52 percent of crime victims answered that they “believe that
time in prison makes people more likely to commit another crime rather
than less likely.”49 Perhaps for that reason, 69 percent of victims preferred
holding people accountable through options beyond prison, such as
rehabilitation, mental health treatment, drug treatment, community
supervision, or community service.50 The findings are not surprising
to people who work closely with crime survivors, but they are entirely
contrary to the public and law enforcement narrative about what victims
It is crucial to note that survivors’ opposition to incarceration is

Common Justice

strongest when other options are present. The survey results described
above demonstrate this at a system level (for example, survivors prefer the
options of treatment and education to incarceration), but it is also true at
an individual level. When prison is the only option available to survivors,
many will choose it — if only because choosing “nothing” is unacceptable
to them. To truly gauge a survivor’s opinion of prison, the person must
be asked not only how it compares to nothing at all, but how it would
compare to something else.

Another survivor’s experience
One night, a young man robbed a Spanish immigrant named
Federico of his week’s wages while he was on his way home
from work. This incident changed everything for Federico.
He experienced post-traumatic stress symptoms—he had
trouble sleeping, withdrew from his relationship, and could not
concentrate on studying for the GED test he had planned to
take. He started taking taxis home, spending a huge portion
of his small income. He felt afraid while walking on the street.
Whenever anyone came up behind him, “even a little old
lady,” his mind would race, his heart would race, his stomach
would turn, and his whole body would freeze up.
Once Federico was ready, Common Justice staff convened
a dialogue with Carl, the man who robbed him. After hours
of talking about what happened and its impact on Federico,
Carl and the group thought hard about what he could do to
make things as right as possible. After agreeing to a number
of actions—including apologizing and doing community
service—Carl said, “Every man older than me in my family
has been in prison. My older brother served a long time and
he won the prison boxing league championship. He is the one
who taught me how to fight. I showed you the wrong end of
that on the street that day. But he is also the one who taught

me how to defend myself, and if you want, I will show you
that, too.”
Federico said, “I would love that.” A few months later,
supervised by a seasoned martial artist at a local dojo, Carl
first stood in the position of a person being held against his
will and Federico held him there. Carl demonstrated multiple
ways to escape the hold. Then they switched spots. Federico
was in the same position he was in the night he was mugged,
only this time, as he practiced the techniques Carl taught him
with increasing skill, he was repeatedly able to free himself
from Carl’s grasp.
The next day Federico called Common Justice’s director and
said, “I’m calling to tell you nothing happened.” Confused,
she asked, “What?” Federico explained: “Nothing happened.
A six-foot-tall man passed me on the street and nothing
happened.” His mind did not race. His heart did not race.
His stomach did not churn. His body did not freeze. Before
work, he had gone to Times Square so he could walk by as
many people as possible. He looked for the tallest people, the
biggest men. As he walked past each one, he told the program
director on the phone, “Nothing!”

What does “centering” mean?
A survivor-centered system is not a survivor-ruled system. Valuing people
does not mean giving them sole and unmitigated control. The criminal
justice system maintains a responsibility to safety, justice, and human
dignity that it should uphold even when those interests run contrary to
survivors’ desires. So if a survivor wants someone free and that person
poses a present and demonstrable threat to others, the survivor’s opinion
should not outweigh the safety of others. Similarly, when a survivor wants
a level of retribution that runs contrary to the values of justice and fairness,

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


the system does not have an obligation to satisfy the person’s desire for
punishment. The system’s actors do, however, have an obligation to listen
to the survivor, be transparent and honest with the person about the
decisions they make, and connect the survivor with support.
Reducing violence will require a system that centers on people who
survive harm and that reckons 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.
Why so many survivors prefer restorative justice
From the perspective of survivors, restorative justice can be
among the most satisfying alternatives to prison. Restorative
justice practices bring together people most affected by
a crime to address the harm, hold the responsible person
accountable, and support the well-being of those harmed.
Among victims of crime in the United States who have taken
part in restorative processes, 80 to 90 percent have reported
being satisfied with the process and its results.a Restorative
justice has also been shown to significantly reduce posttraumatic stress symptoms in victims and to substantially
reduce recidivism among the people who committed harm.b
Restorative justice programs exist throughout the world and
are delivering powerful results both within the U.S. criminal
justice system and outside of it.c By bringing people who
commit harm face-to-face with those affected by their actions
and giving survivors a central voice in the process, these
programs give those who are responsible an opportunity to
acknowledge the impact of their actions and make things as
right as possible. As such, they do what prisons typically fail
to do: They hold people accountable in a meaningful way.
When victims have the option, many choose this path—even
for serious violence. At Common Justice, for example, the vast
majority of victims (a full 90 percent) who have been given the
choice of seeing the person who harmed them incarcerated

or seeing them take part in an alternate process have chosen
Common Justice.d All of these survivors are people who
participated in the criminal justice process. They are among
the victims who called the police and are part of the even
smaller subgroup of those people who continued their
engagement through the grand jury process. They are people
who initially chose a pathway that led to incarceration. Even
among these victims, when another option is present, 90
percent choose something other than that very incarceration
they were pursuing. Their decisions point to an essential way
of anticipating survivors’ needs: What survivors choose when
they have only one option does not predict what they will
want when multiple options are present.
The narrative that frames survivors as either irrationally
vindictive or wildly forgiving excludes the complexity and
practicality of the views many of them hold. Although some
certainly choose Common Justice out of compassion, most
choose out of simple, pragmatic self-interest: They choose to
participate in this process because they believe it represents a
better chance of meeting their short- and long-term needs for
safety and justice and ensuring that others won’t experience
the kind of suffering they did. And though not all victims will
want restorative justice, the strong preference for this process
when it is made available means that a survivor-centered
approach requires putting the option on the table.


Mark S. Umbreit, Robert B. Coates, and Betty Vos, “The Impact of Victim-Offender Mediation: Two Decades of Research,” Federal Probation 65, no. 3 (2001), 29-35.


See Caroline M. Angel, “Crime Victims Meet their Offenders: Testing the Impact of Restorative Justice Conferences on Victims’ Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms”

(PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania: 2005), 73-74; Mark S. Umbreit, Robert B. Coates, and Betty Vos, “Victim-Offender Mediation: Three Decades of Practice
and Research,” Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 22, nos. 1-2 (2004), 279-303,; and National Council on Crime & Delinquency, Scaling
Restorative Community Conferencing Through a Pay for Success Model: A Feasibility Assessment Report (Oakland, CA: NCCD, 2015), 9,

Some of the most powerful examples of these programs include Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth and Community Works in Oakland, California; Impact

Justice and its partners nationally; the Community Conferencing Center in Baltimore; the Community Justice for Youth Institute in Chicago; and the Insight Prison
Project in San Quentin, California.


This reflects Common Justice outreach data from February 2009 through November 2016.

Common Justice

Principle 2: Responses should be


ll too often, people equate punishment and accountability — even
though the two are not the same. The result in the United States
has been a globally unique and historically unprecedented level of
punishment and a gaping lack of meaningful accountability among people
who commit harm.

Incarceration can impede accountability
Being punished only requires that people sustain the suffering imposed
upon them for their transgression. It is passive. All one has to do to be
punished is not escape. It requires neither agency nor dignity, nor does it
require work. Being accountable is something else.
Accountability requires five key elements:
›› acknowledging one’s responsibility for one’s actions;
›› acknowledging the impact of one’s actions on others;
›› expressing genuine remorse;
›› taking actions to repair the harm to the degree possible; and
›› no longer committing similar harm.

Accountability requires both agency and dignity — and is often the hardest
work a person can do.
There is wide agreement that survivors deserve to have the people who
harmed them held accountable to them — and to other people impacted
by these crimes. Such a process can help satisfy the moral demands of a
culture, facilitate the survivors’ healing, and validate that what happened
to them is wrong. But accountability is also something that people who
commit harm deserve — in the toughest and most generous sense of the
word. They deserve to pay in a meaningful and dignified way for what they

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


have done. They deserve the difficulty of that reckoning, and even the fear
and pain it may cause. But they also deserve an opportunity to repair harm
that will allow them an avenue out of shame and its associated violence.
In holding people accountable — rather than vacillating between extreme
punishment and impunity — it becomes possible to satisfy all of those
moral demands and contribute to the reduction of future violence.
The trouble is that prisons are not designed for accountability. No
one in prison is required to face the human impact of what they have
done; to come face-to-face with the people whose lives are changed as a
result of their decision; to take responsibility for that decision; and to do
the extraordinarily hard work of answering for that pain and becoming
someone who will not ever commit that harm again. Prisons render that
human reckoning nearly impossible. The criminal justice system at once
inflicts harms in ways that are inconsistent with human dignity and safety
and, at the same time, is structured in a way that excuses people from the
obligations that do arise from hurting people. The system also denies people
who commit harm the opportunity to recuperate their dignity by taking
responsibility, transforming their lives, and halting the cycles of violence
they are otherwise at great risk of perpetuating.
Some of the societal attachment to prison comes from overestimating
the efficacy of punishment as an agent of change. Social psychologists
have long noted the ways in which punishment is limited as a method
to positively affect behavior. Research shows limited returns from
punishment overall, and diminishing returns on both the individual
and societal level as such penalties are used more frequently.51 Similarly,
research has shown that many people experience sanctions other than
incarceration as equal to or even harder than incarceration.52
It is therefore typically — and incorrectly — assumed that incarceration
is the “toughest” response to crime, when in fact some dignified, humane
alternatives to prison turn out to be difficult and more effective, perhaps
in part because of what they require of the people who participate. This
is true of some drug treatment programs that have demonstrably reduced
recidivism more effectively than incarceration.53 Although these programs
do not subject people to the isolation and indignities of prison, they require
participants — whether mandated by the courts or, even better, voluntarily
engaged — to go through the enormously challenging work of battling
addiction. In New York City, numerous alternatives to incarceration that
address a combination of violent and nonviolent crimes have demonstrated
better safety outcomes than prison has.54 These programs often include
education, mental health treatment, community service, and vocational
training as ways to help hold people accountable. New interventions for
violence can build on the lessons learned from these programs (which


Common Justice

thus far have focused primarily on nonviolent offenses) and from violence
intervention efforts that have not yet been deployed as alternatives to
prison. Such options stand to be especially valuable in communities with
high rates of incarceration. Particularly given the normalization of prison
in these communities, any moral force prison may have once had for many
people has likely been diluted by its overuse, rendering it less meaningful
as an expression of society’s contempt for harm.55

The use of punishment should never be
None of this is to say that our society is ready to do away with prisons.
Although they are limited in efficacy and dehumanizing to those
incarcerated there, it would be irresponsible to pretend that the capacity
currently exists to safely hold all people accountable in other ways. Even
though punishment for punishment’s sake runs contrary not only to
the demands of accountability but also to survivors’ expressed desire
for interventions that reduce the likelihood of further harm, that does
not mean punishment never has a purpose — nor does it mean that
incapacitation has no value in temporarily securing safety in certain
situations. Some people at risk of doing more harm will need to be
separated from others, but confinement does not require degradation, and
prisons around the world demonstrate that it is possible to take people’s
freedom without also taking their dignity and safety.56
Given the limits of incarceration — both its inefficacy and its
brutality — a justice system should rely on it in the most parsimonious
way possible. The 2014 National Academy of Sciences report on the
causes and consequences of incarceration describes such restrained use
of prison by maintaining that “any punishment that is more severe than is
required to achieve valid and applicable purposes is to that extent morally
unjustifiable. It is excessive.”57 Crucially, research shows only a limited and
disputed link between the length of sentences and an increased deterrent
effect — on either the individual or community level. Understanding
prison’s limitations as a tool will help guard against its excessive use. This
begins with relying on diversion and imposing shorter sentences and
continues through policies that govern releasing people from prison.

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


Releasing people from prison is consistent
with a commitment to accountability
When prison is used as the means of holding someone accountable, its
use should still be bound by parsimony — which means that no one
should be incarcerated longer than necessary. Many people who are
in prison for violence — despite conditions that make transformation
difficult — become people who will not hurt others again. For some, the
pathway to this is through reflection and remorse. For others, it is through
time — people mature, engage in classes and activities that support them
in changing, and get older. It is widely documented that after a certain age,
the risk that people will hurt others diminishes vastly.58 And the severity of
one’s crime does not affirmatively predict risk: In fact, people who commit
homicide and sex offenses have some of the lowest re-offense rates of
anyone returning home from prison.59
The limited use of parole throughout the country — so that only a small
fraction of eligible people are granted it — also has the detrimental effect
of providing disincentives for positive behavior, given that the promise
of parole is a primary vehicle in prisons to reward people for engaging
in constructive activities and refraining from violence.60 Pragmatism,
parsimony, and fairness therefore point to the value of providing people
with real opportunities for parole based on their actions while incarcerated
and a current assessment of their risk to others. Although many parole
boards also attempt to gauge subjectively whether someone expresses
adequate responsibility for past actions — in addition to objective measures
of the person’s behavior while incarcerated — it is extraordinarily hard
to do so effectively. Even in the context of intimate relationships, it can
be hard to tell the degree to which someone truly feels remorse. It is
unrealistic to expect a group of strangers in a high-pressure context to
make such a nuanced discernment over the course of an hour or two.
Similarly, it is also important to have other mechanisms for early release
(including “earned” or “good” time and merit time), to further encourage
good behavior.61
In this context it is more fruitful to think about accountability not as
a set of feelings, but as a set of actions — as we say at Common Justice,
“doing” sorry rather than feeling sorry. Whether in the community or
in a prison, accountability as “doing” sorry is reflected not just in one’s
words, but in what one does. So if people in prison avail themselves
of opportunities, do not hurt others, and demonstrate a commitment
to positive behavior, they are exhibiting accountability in the best way
possible in the context of confinement and should be judged accordingly.


Common Justice

This practice of accountability is substantially strengthened by educational
and other programs, where available, that not only give people in prison
an opportunity to change, but also allow them to practice accountability
through their actions.
People who have transformed are assets to society, which loses the
benefit of their contributions when they remain incarcerated. Although
practices like early release and parole have rarely been applied equitably,
they are meant to account for the fact that people change and that excessive
punishment guts the integrity of the system instead of strengthening it.
One might therefore think of parsimony as a lever for legitimacy, and
legitimacy as a crucial element of a functional justice system.

Individual accountability is not enough:
our society also has to take responsibility
for structural harm
A truly accountability-based response to violence lets no one off the
hook. In addition to raising the standards of accountability for those who
have committed harm, this also means recognizing systemic violence
and repairing the damage it causes. It means confronting, taking overt
responsibility for, and transforming those forms of violence that have
occurred historically, persist most forcefully in poor communities and
communities of color across the country, and make violence likely in the
first place. This includes the police-involved shootings that have garnered
so much attention in the public conversation, but it also includes less
visible drivers of violence like inequitable housing policy, divestment
from education, the unavailability of a living wage, and the lack of mental
health services for survivors of trauma. The lessons of accountability are
relevant here, too — that the people most affected by a given harm deserve
a say in what form the repair should take. This means including crime
survivors, formerly incarcerated people, families impacted by violence and
incarceration, and others closest to the pain in defining the ways in which
our society can address and redress the lasting impact of its choices.
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 meaningful accountability
replaces hollow punishment, we can build systems that deliver on the
promise of safety and can expect to see less violence as a result of these

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


Principle 3: Responses should be


hilosophical debates about strategies that are “soft” vs. “tough”
on crime may be expedient for politicians, but they do not serve
victims and communities. What people affected by violence need
is not dogmatism, but a real, pragmatic conversation about what actually
produces safety — and a commitment to prioritizing it in policy. Fulfilling
that commitment begins with a deeper understanding of what causes,
prevents, and interrupts violence.

“Violence” is not monolithic
All too often violence is discussed as a monolithic problem without an
appreciation for the context in which it takes place, the people responsible
for it, the needs of those harmed by it, the opportunities for intervention,
and the long-term impacts of responsive strategies. A domestic violence
homicide in a small rural town and a shooting related to an open-air
drug market in a large city are not the same — nor are they the same
as a robbery and mugging committed by a group of teenagers, a sexual
assault committed by someone known to the survivor, or a stabbing that
resulted from a long-standing dispute between former friends. Some
acts of violence are committed by people who suffer from serious mental
illness.62 Other violent behavior arises out of addiction.63 Those underlying
causes are important because they influence the range of effective
interventions. Similarly, practical experience and brain science both
demonstrate that adolescents think and behave differently from their adult
counterparts — and are more susceptible to change.64
Regardless of the type of violence in question, U.S. justice systems
typically rely on incarceration as the single blunt instrument in their


Common Justice

toolbox — all without any data-driven indications that it is the tool most
likely to secure the short- and long-term safety of the survivors and others
who have a stake in the outcome. Rising to the challenge of addressing
and reducing violence will require a basis of understanding about who is
committing harm, whom they are hurting, what the circumstances and
context are, and what consequences each person experiences as a result.
Only then will people be able to develop adequate solutions to the problem.

We need to change course to deliver
on safety
Relying exclusively on incarceration (or any single tool, for that matter)
to address violence and its repercussions is not a morally or practically
adequate response, and in fact can be counterproductive. Studies
demonstrate that prison can have a criminogenic effect — meaning it is
likely to cause, rather than prevent, further crime.65 To put it simply, prison
is a risk factor for violence. This is especially problematic because virtually
all incarcerated people — a full 95 percent — come home.66
Securing the safety of survivors and communities affected by violence,
including the victims who do not report such crimes, will require
developing interventions rooted in the strongest research and practices
about the drivers of violence and how to reduce it. This will require the
work of criminal justice actors, given that the legitimacy and efficacy of
police and prosecutors have enormous implications for the safety and wellbeing of communities. But violence is not a problem that law enforcement
alone can solve. Real solutions will require different leaders and broader
thinking. For instance, rather than simply asking, “Who is the worst among
us and how do we stop them?,” a public health practitioner or community
intervention specialist might instead ask, “Who can we safely manage
in our communities — and for those we can’t, how do we develop that
The bad news is that there is not yet a single proven model or set of
models that can replace the current failing approach to violence. The good
news is that there are promising interventions for violence that, given
sufficient investments to develop them and others at anywhere near the
scale of investments in incarceration, could diminish violence in ways
punishment alone never will.67 Although there is no uniform opinion in
the field about the best way forward, numerous models and programs
employ key strategies deserving of rigorous analysis and development.
Some of these interventions include law enforcement as central
elements (the National Network for Safe Communities is nationally

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


recognized in this arena); others are alternatives to incarceration with
systematic ties to the courts (Common Justice is among them); and far
more are community-based responses to harm, like Cure Violence, which
deploys public health workers whose identity and experience give them
the credibility to build relationships with people most likely to shoot or be
shot and to intervene in violence as it is about to occur. 68 The communitybased Roca programs have produced extraordinary results in their work
with street- and gang-involved youth outside of Boston.69 The Trauma
Recovery Centers in California, notably, have been broadly replicated
through funds that came from reducing criminal penalties.70 The National
Compadres network draws on culturally rooted healing practices to treat
survivors of violence to help ensure that they do not pass their pain on
to others.71 The Healing Hurt People program in Philadelphia and Youth
ALIVE in Oakland work with people admitted to hospitals to address their
pain and prevent retaliatory violence.72 Countless other smaller, grassroots,
neighborhood-grown programs are led by and for the people most directly
impacted by the conditions in their communities.73
Community approaches like these, when adequately supported, hold
out a degree of promise that prison never will — in part because they
stand to produce stronger results, but also because, unlike prisons, they can
reach people law enforcement does not and can engage them voluntarily in

It is possible to have less incarceration
and more safety
Crucially, the evidence demonstrates that it is possible to reduce violence
and reduce incarceration at the same time.74 A recent Harvard study
documented the phenomenon in New York City, where serious crime fell
by 58 percent from 1994 to 2014, while at the same time the combined
jail and prison incarceration rate was cut by 55 percent.75 According
to the report, this concurrent reduction was the result of a variety of
decentralized changes, including advocacy and organizing campaigns
focused on reducing penalties for drug-related offenses, strategic
investments in alternative to incarceration programs, and changes in
attitudes among everyone from police officials to policymakers, judges to
corrections staff, prosecutors, and the public. This shift was reflected in the
New York Police Department’s changed approach to arrests (particularly
in drug enforcement) and in the way “New York’s judges, prosecutors,
and probation officials made less use of prison, jail, and probation, while
increasing the use of pretrial release, dismissals, fines, and conditional and
unconditional discharges.”76

Common Justice

The study belies the long-standing belief that giving up prison means
accepting more violence. The reverse has been true in New York City (and
because people from the city make up such a substantial portion of those
incarcerated statewide, in New York State as a whole). Although scholars
will debate whether the two reductions were causally related, no one
can argue the overwhelming evidence that they were compatible — that
violence and incarceration can decrease at the same time.
The role of prosecutors
Prosecutors’ discretion can have a greater impact on
incarceration rates than almost any legislative reform. In
fact, prosecutors in New York City started exercising their
discretion to enable people to enter drug treatment instead of
prison — years before the reforms to the 1973 Rockefeller drug
laws made that practice law.a
Currently, the public typically measures a prosecutor’s
success—whether an elected district attorney or an entrylevel assistant district attorney—by the number and severity
of convictions and sentences he or she secures. Prosecutors’
practices will change substantially only if they define success
differently—and if their constituents join them in doing so.
This includes prioritizing more nuanced results like fairness,
parsimony, and safety over the blunt outputs of lengthy

Prosecutors who are working to truly serve their constituents
who are most impacted by violence recognize that long
sentences do not always produce safety and sometimes
even run contrary to that goal. These prosecutors, then, will
forgo the harshest punishment they can secure in favor of the
fairest and most effective one. They will rely heavily on proven
alternative to incarceration programs, will favor probation
over prison sentences when it is safe to do so, will respond
to victims’ requests for restorative justice processes, will
support measures to meet young adults with developmentally
appropriate interventions, and will not always seek the
maximum penalty. When they reorient their standard practice
in this way, these prosecutors can play a leading role in
ending the overuse of incarceration as a response to violence.

Greene and Schiraldi, 2016, 26.

We need greater understanding and
stronger evidence
Breaking a near-exclusive reliance on prison as a tool to achieve safety
will require developing deeper understanding — and more robust
evidence — about what truly makes communities safer. Despite a great
deal of research in this area, much more is needed, including studies
that will help develop a stronger understanding of underreporting of
crime and its link to communities’ lack of faith in mass incarceration. The
criminal justice field would benefit from studies that debunk predictive
models that characterize large numbers of people as irreparably damaged,
dangerous, or both — and replace them with other forms of analysis.
Researchers can also help to integrate a focus on gender in conversations
about violence, including fostering better understanding of effective
responses to gender-based violence, integrating an understanding of
LGBTQI people’s experiences into their analysis, and exploring the ways
negative and narrow conceptions of masculinity contribute to harm. In
Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration


addition, research can generate insight about different types of violence
and the interventions to which they are susceptible; analyze incarceration’s
criminogenic effects; and understand why some people succeed in
breaking cycles of violence.

We must address violence at its root
Although it is essential to change responses to individuals who
commit violence or are at risk of doing so, violence is never only about
individual factors; it is also systemic and historical. To be successful,
prevention efforts — primary, secondary, and tertiary — should therefore
incorporate strategies to address the structural inequities that drive and
constrain individual behavior. Interventions that invert these drivers of
violence can do more to ensure safety than the punishment of any single
individual — or group of individuals — ever will.

Principle 4: Responses should be
racially equitable


he stories of violence and incarceration in the United States are
inseparable from the stories of race and racism. Enacting the first
three principles outlined above — centering survivors, fostering
accountability, and increasing safety — will both support and require larger
efforts to end racial inequity. Racial equity is not a stand-alone concept,
then, but rather a foundational basis for all reform efforts.
In that context, the aspirations of an equitable criminal justice system
can be distilled to something along these lines: Everyone gets a fair
shot in the first place; everyone gets a fair shake when they have done
wrong; no one who causes harm gets off the hook; and society tries to keep
everyone safe.

Punishment is meted out inequitably
The reality is that the United States is nowhere near achieving that
seemingly straightforward vision. When it comes to a fair shot, inequities
that begin as early as birth have a profound impact on people’s chances of
committing and surviving violence. As described above, the conditions
in many communities make experiencing harm almost inevitable


Common Justice

and receiving adequate support for healing nearly impossible. This
is compounded by the debilitating combination of social conditions,
unhealed pain, and individual choices that lead to cycles of violence. These
conditions are not — and have never been — distributed equally across
race, as people of color are far more likely to live at the intersection of
structural inequity, poverty, and disenfranchisement that diminishes their
access to necessary supports: roughly 39 percent of black children, for
instance, live in poverty, as compared to 14 percent of white children.77 A
young black boy born today has a 1 in 3 chance of being incarcerated in his
lifetime — compared to the 1 in 17 chance of his white counterparts.78
As for a fair shake, once people are involved in the criminal justice
system, racial disparities are rampant from start to finish and are reinforced
by the media, which overrepresent people of color as responsible for
crime and underrepresent them as victims.79 These disparities have been
documented at every decision point in the process, including arrests,
charging decisions, plea offers, sentences, and parole.80 The cumulative
impact of these disparities is stunning: Black people in the United States
are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white people are, and
despite making up only a quarter of the population, black and Latino
people together account for a full 58 percent of those incarcerated.81 As
scholars like Michelle Alexander have argued, these disparities have been
baked into the justice system from the start, and have their proximate
lineage in the convict leasing practices of the late-19th and early-20th
centuries, and in slavery before that.82

Many people are still let off the hook
The flip side of extreme punishment is impunity, and despite the
extraordinarily high rates at which the United States incarcerates its
residents, many people are never held accountable for their actions.
Low levels of crime reporting mean that many people are never caught
for the harm they commit. Nationally, the homicide clearance rate in
2013 was only 64 percent, and in some neighborhoods, including many
low-income communities of color, the percentage of homicides that are
solved and successfully prosecuted is far lower.83 Wealthy white people
consistently fare better in court — and this includes having the means
to prove their innocence when they have done no wrong, but also can
include being acquitted of charges or facing lesser penalties for crimes they
almost certainly committed.84 What is more, system actors are rarely held
accountable for misconduct or violence. This is perhaps most strikingly
visible in the cases of police shootings in this country, prompting demands
for accountability in a context in which officers rarely see criminal
Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration


consequences for their actions, even when their fatal uses of force are
regarded as excessive or unjustified.85

Access to safety is unequal
Current approaches to prevent violence fail to keep people equally safe.
The rates at which people of color — including young men — experience
violence are the result of current and historic policies in their communities
that have made safety a privilege available to the few. Scholars have argued
that “the history of black America is an unbroken story about the power
of the state always being used to control and to harm,” and that the overpolicing of some crimes (such as drug possession) coincides with underpolicing of serious crimes including homicide — so that black communities
are over-punished, but also fundamentally under-protected.86
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 addressing our history and present
realities of racial oppression as a potentially transformative evidenceinformed strategy to reduce violence.

White people are insulated from
racism, but not from violence or mass
It is critical to note that the racial inequities in the criminal justice
system have by no means guaranteed safety or justice to white people
in this country. Although for the most part white people have a greater
expectation of access to and fairness in the justice system, they are not
insulated from its detrimental impacts. White people make up 39 percent
of those incarcerated — close to one million people on any given day.87
And poor white communities across the country suffer from the traumatic
interplay of violence and poverty. The fact that the criminal justice system
is racially inequitable and has roots in a history of structural racism has
never meant that white people have been fully protected from its damaging
effects. In Ohio, for instance, in 2013, white people represented the fastest
growing group of people entering prisons; 80 percent of women entering
prisons in Ohio that year were white.88 So although white people may be


Common Justice

insulated from the widely documented racial biases that plague the justice
system, they are not immune from its exponential expansion over the past
four decades. And like anyone else, they are affected by the divestment in
the social-service infrastructure — including the schools, hospitals, and
roads in their towns — that many contend is at least partially the result of
the national prioritization of prison.89

The vision in practice


ne commonly known fact is rarely reflected in criminal justice
policy: people change. Kids mature. Survivors heal. People who
commit violence evolve and grow. And our country can learn
from experience and can change too.
The course we are on is failing to account for violence, but it is not
irreversible. It is not too late to make choices that will begin to correct
the failures of mass incarceration and reduce violence. Some of this will
require a shift in culture and values, and some will require a shift in policy.
The policy levers to get there include the following:
›› developing alternatives to prison that can be demonstrated to work

and that are survivor-centered, accountability-based, safety-driven, and
racially equitable;
›› reducing both minimum and maximum sentences for violent crime;
›› calling on prosecutors and judges to use their discretion to rely on
incarceration as a last resort, constrained by values of fairness and
parsimony and only to the degree necessary to ensure safety;
›› eliminating mandatory-minimum sentences, including “three strikes”
laws, to allow the justice system to respond to the facts of a case and
the human beings standing before them;
›› reclassifying certain lower-level felonies as misdemeanors, particularly
for crimes labeled “violent” that do not involve significant harm to
›› treating young adults like juveniles rather than adults, especially
with regard to giving them opportunities to avoid the long-term
consequences of a permanent criminal record.
›› expanding the use of parole and “good time” to incentivize change and
reduce the unnecessary use of prisons; and
›› insisting on policing practices that truly produce fairness and safety.

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


Because part of the problem is an overreliance on the criminal justice
system to address broad social ills, reducing violence will also require
changes in practices outside of the criminal justice system, including the
›› investing in the social-service infrastructure that reduces the

likelihood of violence in the first place, including schools, housing,
jobs, health care, mental health treatment, and after-school programs
for young people;
›› expanding the range of services available to victims of crime,
including services that do not include engaging law enforcement as a
prerequisite for care; and
›› expanding the use of public health strategies to address violence,
including models that rely on “credible messengers” to address violence
where and when it is likely to occur.



he United States will not solve the problem of violence by relying
on prison to do so. And the country will not succeed in breaking
its reliance on incarceration by parsing the deserving from the
undeserving or by dodging the hardest questions, including what to do to
address serious harm. As we face new challenges to reforming the criminal
justice system, this is not the time to compromise our values. It is time to
put those values more powerfully and visibly into practice than ever before.
That means answering to crime survivors. It means taking accountability
seriously. It means being relentless in prioritizing safety over politics. And
it means insisting that every advance we make also advances racial equity.
When we do that, the end of mass incarceration will be within reach, as
will the safety and justice everyone deserves.


Common Justice


Albert Reiss and Jeffrey Roth, ed., “Patterns of Violence in American
Society,” in Understanding and Preventing Violence: Panel on the
Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior, Vol. 1 (Washington,
DC: National Academy Press, 1993), 70,

2	 Bruce Kennedy, Ichiro Kawachi, Deborah Prothrow-Stith, Kimberly
Lochner, and Vanita Gupta, “Social Capital, Income Inequality,
and Firearm Violent Crime” Social Science and Medicine 47, no. 1
(1998), 7-17; and Cleopatra H. Caldwell, Laura P. Kohn-Wood, Karen
H. Schmeelk-Cone, Tabbye M. Chavous, and Marc A. Zimmerman,
“Racial Discrimination and Racial Identity as Risk or Protective
Factors for Violent Behaviors in African American Young Adults,”
American Journal of Community Psychology 33 (2004), 91-105.
3	 Reiss and Roth, “Perspectives on Violence,” in Understanding and
Preventing Violence, 1993, 145.
4	 James Gilligan, Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes (New
York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1996).
5	 Li-yu Song, Mark Singer, and Trina Anglin, “Violence Exposure and
Emotional Trauma as Contributors to Adolescents’ Violent Behaviors,”
Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 152 (1998), 531-36.
6	 Kara Williams, Lourdes Rivera, Robert Neighbours, and Vivian Reznik,
“Youth Violence Prevention Comes of Age: Research, Training and
Future Directions,” The Annual Review of Public Health 28 (2007),
7	 U.S. Department of Education, State and Local Expenditures on
Corrections and Education (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
Education Policy and Program Studies Service, 2016), 1, https:// Christian Henrichson and Ruth Delaney, The
Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers (New York:
Vera Institute of Justice, 2012), 2, and
Justice Policy Institute, Rethinking the Blues: How We Police in the
U.S. and at What Cost (Washington, DC: Justice Policy Institute,
2012), 11,
8	 Charlotte Garden and Nancy Leong, “ ‘So Closely Intertwined’:
Labor Interests and Racial Solidarity,” George Washington Law
Review 81 (2013), 1170-1174,, Elizabeth
A. Baker, Mario Schootman, Ellen Barnidge, and Cheryl Kelly, “The
Role of Race and Poverty in Access to Foods that Enable Individuals
to Adhere to Dietary Guidelines,” Preventing Chronic Disease 3,
no. 3 (2006), and Jacob S. Rugh
and Douglas S. Massey. “Racial Segregation and the American
Foreclosure Crisis,” American Sociological Review 75, no. 5 (2010),
9	 Eric S. Mankowski and Kenneth I. Maton, “A Community Psychology
of Men and Masculinity: Historical and Conceptual Review,”
American Journal of Community Psychology 45 (2010): 73-86;
Kathryn Reid-Quinones, Wendy Kliewer, Brian J. Shields, Kimberly
Goodman, Margaret H. Ray, and Emily Wheat, “Cognitive,

Affective, and Behavioral Responses to Witnessed Versus
Experienced Violence,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 81,
no. 1 (2011): 51-60; Raewyn W. Connell, Masculinities, 2nd Edition
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Sonia Schwarts,
Joel Hoyte, Thea James, Lauren Conoscenti, Renee Johnson, and
Jane Liebschutz, “Challenges to Engaging Black Male Victims of
Community Violence in Healthcare Research: Lessons Learned from
Two Studies,” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice
and Policy 2, no. 1 (2010): 54-62; and Veronika Burcar and Malin
Akerström, “Negotiating a Victim Identity: Young Men as Victims
of Violence,” Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and
Crime Prevention 10 (2009): 37-54.
10	 The Urban Institute, The Challenges of Prisoner Reentry: Facts and
Figures (Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 2008), https://perma.
11	 Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the
Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2012), 20-26;
Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement
of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, (New York:
Anchor Books, 2009); Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,”
The Atlantic, June 2014, and Alex F.
Schwartz, Housing Policy in the United States (New York: Routledge,
2010), 332.
12	 Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy
of Racial Terror, Second Edition (Montgomery, AL: Equal Justice
Initiative, 2015),
13	 Christopher Hartney and Linh Vuong, Created Equal: Racial and
Ethnic Disparities in the US Criminal Justice System (Oakland, CA:
National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 2009), 3, https://
14	 Randy Borum, “Assessing Violence Risk Among Youth,” Journal of
Clinical Psychology 56, no. 10 (2000), 1263-88; and Jennifer N.
Shaffer and R. Barry Ruback, Violent Victimization as a Risk Factor
for Violent Offending Among Juveniles, Juvenile Justice Bulletin,
(Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention,
2002), 6, 8, Kenneth V. Hardy and
Tracey A. Laszloffy, Teens Who Hurt: Clinical Interventions to Break
the Cycle of Adolescent Violence (New York: The Guilford Press,
2005); John A. Rich and Courtney M. Grey, “Pathways to Recurrent
Trauma Among Young Black Men: Traumatic Stress, Substance Use,
and the ‘Code of the Street,’ ” The American Journal of Public Health
95, no. 5 (2005), 816-24; Erika Harrell, Black Victims of Violent Crime,
Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report (Washington, DC: U.S.
Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, BJS, 2007, NCJ
15	 Beyond Innocence: Toward a Framework for Serving All Survivors of
Crime (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, Common Justice, 2015),
16	 Ballotpedia, “California Proposition 57, Parole for Non-Violent
Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements (2016),” and Ballotpedia, “Oklahoma
Reclassification of Some Drug and Property Crimes as
Misdemeanors, State Question 780 (2016),”
17	 Hal Dardick and Matthew Walberg, “Kim Foxx Declares Win in Cook
County State’s Attorney’s Race,” Chicago Tribune, November 8,
2016,; Elyssa
Cherney, “Aramis Ayala Upsets Jeff Ashton for State Attorney,”
Orlando Sentinel, August 31, 2016,
politics/os-primary-state-attorney-judges-20160829-story.html; Brian
Rogers, Margaret Kadifa, and Emily Foxhall, “Anderson Defeated in
Harris County DA Race,” Houston Chronicle, November 8, 2016, and Fernanda Santos, “Sheriff Joe
Arpaio Loses Bid for 7th Term in Arizona,” The New York Times,
November 9, 2016,
18	 Leah Sakala, Breaking Down Mass Incarceration in the 2010 Census:
State-by-State Incarceration Rates by Race/Ethnicity (Northampton,
MA: Prison Policy Initiative, 2014),
19	 Ryan King, Bryce Peterson, Brian Elderbroom, and Elizabeth Pelletier,
“Reducing Mass Incarceration Requires Far-Reaching Reforms,”
(Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 2015),
20	 Justice Policy Institute, Defining Violence: Reducing Incarceration
by Rethinking America’s Approach to Violence (Washington, DC: JPI,
2016), 4.
21	 This is both figurative and literal. See California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation, “Victim’s Bill of Rights: Marsy’s Law,”; New York State
Office of Mental Health, “Kendra’s Law,” and U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs,
“AMBER Alert,”
22	 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of
Justice Statistics, Victimizations Not Reported to the Police, 20062010 (Washington, DC: BJS, 2012, NCJ 238536), 1, https://perma.
23	 Ibid., 5.
24	 Ibid.
25	 Ibid., 7, 8.
26	 Robert J. Sampson and Janet L. Lauritsen, “Racial and Ethnic
Disparities in Crime and Criminal Justice in the United States” Crime
and Justice 21 (1997), 311-374,
27	 U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation,
Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Crime in the United States, 2015,
(Washington, DC: FBI, 2016), U.S
Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice
Statistics, “Criminal Cases,” (Washington, DC: BJS), https://perma.

cc/X7YL-9CT5 and Judith L. Herman, “The Mental Health of Crime
Victims: Impact of Legal Intervention,” Journal of Traumatic Stress 16,
no. 2 (2003), 159-166, doi:10.1023/A:1022847223135.
28	 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of
Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 31st
edition 2003, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2005),
418, Table 5.17; and 450, Table 5.46.
29	 Edna Erez and Pamela Tontodonato, “The Effect of Victim
Participation in Sentencing on Sentence Outcome,” Criminology 28,
no. 3 (1990): 451-474.
30	 Mary P. Koss, “Restoring Rape Survivors,” Annals of the New
York Academy of Sciences 1087, no. 1 (2006), 206-234; Judith L.
Herman, “The Mental Health of Crime Victims: Impact of Legal
Intervention,” Journal of Traumatic Stress 16, no. 2 (2003): 159166. doi:10.1023/A:1022847223135; American Civil Liberties Union,
Responses from the Field: Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and
Policing (New York: ACLU, 2015), 11-23 and 29-31, https://perma.
cc/6HWM-XWBB Rhissa Briones-Robinson, Ràchael A. Powers,
and Kelly M. Socia, “Sexual Orientation Bias Crimes: Examination
of Reporting, Perception of Police Bias, and Differential Police
Response,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 43, no. 12 (2016), 16881709; and Edna Erez and Nawal Ammar, Violence Against Immigrant
Women and Systemic Responses: An Exploratory Study (2003),
31	 Karen F. Parker, Unequal Crime Decline: Theorizing Race, Urban
Inequality, and Criminal Violence (New York: New York University
Press, 2008); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Youth
Violence: National Statistics,” Mark
S. Eberhardt and Elsie R. Pamuk, “The Importance of Place of
Residence: Examining Health in Rural and Nonrural Areas,” American
Journal of Public Health 94, no. 10 (2004): 1682-86; William J.
Bratton, Crime and Enforcement Activity in New York City (Jan.
1—Dec. 31, 2015), (New York: City of New York Police Department,
2016), 1-16,
32	 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau
of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, Table
10, “Violent Crimes, 1996–2007: Number of victimizations and
victimization rates for persons age 12 and over, by race, gender, and
age of victims and type of crime,”
When these numbers are broken down by crime type, other groups
are significantly more likely to be victims of certain crimes, such as
domestic violence.
33	 Judith Bonderman, Working With Victims of Gun Violence
(Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, Office for Victims of Crime, 2001); Manjula Govindshenoy
and Nicholas J. Spencer, “Abuse of The Disabled Child: A Systematic
Review of Population-Based Studies,” Child Care, Health &
Development 33, no. 5 (2007), 552–8; Roberta A. Hibbard, Larry W.
Desch, and the Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect and the
Council on Children with Disabilities, “Maltreatment of Children
With Disabilities,” Pediatrics 119, no. 5 (2007), 1018–25; John E.

Kesner, Gary E. Bingham, and Kyong-Ah Kwon, “Child Maltreatment
in United States: An Examination of Child Reports and Substantiation
Rates,” The International Journal of Children’s Rights 17, no. 3 (2009),
433–44; Yoko Baba and Susan B. Murray. Racial/Ethnic Differences
Among Battered Women in a Local Shelter, (San Jose, CA: San Jose
State University, 2003); Marsha E. Wolf, Uyen Ly, Margaret A. Hobart,
and Mary A. Kernic, “Barriers to Seeking Police Help For Intimate
Partner Violence,” Journal of Family Violence 18, no. 2 (2003), 121–9;
Janine M Zweig, Kathryn A. Schlichter, and Martha R. Burt, “Assisting
Women Victims of Violence Who Experience Multiple Barriers to
Services,” Violence Against Women 8, no. 2 (2002), 162-180; and Lynn
Langton, Use of Victim Service Agencies by Victims of Serious Violent
Crime, 1993-2009, Special Report (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of
Justice Statistics, 2011, NCJ 234212),

40	 Office for Victims of Crime, Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services:
Final Report (Washington, DC: OVC, 2013), 17-23,
41	 Victims Compensation and Assistance Act of 1984, Pub. L. 98-473,
Title II, Chapter XIV, as amended,
42	 Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence —
from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (New York: Basic Books, 1997).
43	 Alliance for Safety and Justice, Crime Survivors Speak: The First-Ever
National Survey of Victims’ Views on Safety and Justice (Oakland:
Alliance for Safety and Justice, 2016),
44	 Ibid., 14.

34	 Crime victims show much higher incidences of post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) than do people not victimized by crime. Research
shows that 25 percent of crime victims experienced lifetime PTSD
and 9.7 percent had current PTSD (within six months of being
surveyed), whereas 9.4 percent of people who had not been victims
of crime had lifetime PTSD and 3.4 percent had current PTSD. See
Dean Kilpatrick and Ron Acierno, “Mental Health Needs of Crime
Victims: Epidemiology and Outcomes,” Journal of Traumatic Stress
16, no. 2 (2003), 1612, PTSD Alliance,
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Fact Sheet,” (Brooklandville, MD:
Sidran Institute, 2004), and Tanya
Anderson, PTSD in Children and Adolescents (Chicago: Great Cities
Institute, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, University
of Illinois at Chicago, 2005, GCP-05-04),

45	 Christopher Bromson, Erin Eastwood, Michael Polenberg, Kimberly
Sanchez, Danielle Sered, and Susan Xenarios, “A New Vision for
Crime Victims,” Huffington Post, November 4, 2016, www
46	 Ulrich Orth, “Does Perpetrator Punishment Satisfy Victims’ Feelings
of Revenge?,” Aggressive Behavior 30, no. 1 (2004), 62-70.
47	 California Crime Victims’ Voices: Findings from the First-Ever Survey
of California Crime Victims and Survivors (Oakland, CA: Californians
for Safety and Justice, 2013),
48	 Bromson, Eastwood, et al., 2016.

35	 Joseph A. Boscarino, “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Physical
Illness: Results from Clinical and Epidemiologic Studies,” Annals of
the New York Academy of Sciences 1032 (2004), 141-153.

49	 Alliance for Safety and Justice, 2016, 21.

36	 Tara Mathews, Margaret Dempsey, and Stacy Overstreet, “Effects
of Exposure to Community Violence On School Functioning: The
Mediating Role of Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms,” Behaviour
Research and Therapy 47, no. 7 (2009), 586–91; and Sheryl Kataoka,
Audra Langley, Marleen Wong, Shilpa Baweja, and Bradley
Stein, “Responding to Students with PTSD in Schools,” Child and
Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America 21, no. 1 (2012), 11933.

51	 Philip Cook, “The Deterrent Effects of California’s Proposition 8,”
Criminology and Public Policy 5, no. 3 (2006), 415; A. McClelland
and Geoffrey P. Alpert, “Factor Analysis Applied to Magnitude
Estimates of Punishment Seriousness: Patterns of Individual
Differences,” Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 1, no 3 (1985),
307-18; Eleni Apospori and Geoffrey Alpert “Research Note: The
Role of Differential Experience With the Criminal Justice System in
Changes in Perceptions of Severity of Legal Sanctions Over Time,”
Crime and Delinquency 39, no. 2 (1993), 189; Anthony N. Doob and
Cheryl Marie Webster, “Sentence Severity and Crime: Accepting
the Null Hypothesis,” in Crime and Justice: A Review of Research,
30, edited by Michael Tonry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
2003), 143-95; Tamasak Wicharaya, Simple Theory, Hard Reality:
The Impact of Sentencing Reforms on Courts, Prisons, and Crime
(Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), discussed in
Doob and Webster, Sentence and Severity, 22; and Michael Tonry
and David P. Farrington, Strategic Approaches to Crime Prevention,
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Law School, 1995), 6.

37	 Mark W. Smith, Paula P. Schnurr and Robert A. Rosenheck,
“Employment Outcomes and PTSD Symptom Severi­ty,” Mental
Health Services Research 7, no. 2 (2005), 89-101.
38	 Borum, 2000, 1272; Shaffer and Ruback, 2002.
39	 According to the Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice
of the Vera Institute of Justice, a 2010 study by McCollister et al.
offers the most current estimate of victim costs, using the cost-ofillness and jury-compensation approaches. According to the study,
the estimated costs related to victimization for aggravated assault
are $96,254; $24,211 for robbery; and $1,653 for burglary. See CostBenefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice, “Victim Costs,”

50	 Ibid.

52	 David M. Kennedy, Deterrence and Crime Prevention: Reconsidering
the Prospect of Sanction, (Abingdon, Oxon; and New York: Routledge,
2009); Harold G. Grasmick and George J. Bryjak, “The Deterrent
Effect of Perceived Severity of Punishment,” Social Forces, 59 (1980),
471-91; W. Buikhuisen, “General Deterrence: Research and Theory,”

in General Deterrence (Stockholm: National Swedish Council for
Crime Prevention, 1975), 82, cited in Grasmick and Bryjack, “The
Deterrent Effect of Perceived Severity of Punishment,” Social Forces
59, no. 2 (1980), 476; Richard T. Wright and Scott H. Decker, Armed
Robbers in Action: Stickups and Street Culture (Boston: Northeastern
University Press, 1997), 123; Anne M. Piehl, From Cell to Street: A Plan
to Supervise Inmates After Release (Boston: Massachusetts Institute
for a New Commonwealth, 2002), 8; Ben M. Crouch, “Is Incarceration
Really Worse? Analysis of Offenders’ Preferences for Prison Over
Probation,” Justice Quarterly 10, no. 1 (1993), 67-88; Joan Petersilia
and Elizabeth Deschenes, “Perceptions of Punishment: Inmates and
Staff Rank the Severity of Prison Versus Intermediate Sanctions,”
Prison Journal 74, no. 3 (1994), 306-28; William Spelman (1995) “The
Severity of Intermediate Sanctions,” Journal of Research in Crime
and Delinquency 32, no. 2 (1995), 107-35; and David C. May, Peter B.
Wood, Jennifer L. Mooney, and Kevin I. Minor, “Predicting OffenderGenerated Exchange Rates: Implications for a Theory of Sentence
Severity,” Crime and Delinquency 51, no. 3 (2005), 373-99.
53	 The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Crossing
the Bridge: An Evaluation of the Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison
(DTAP) Program (New York: Columbia University, the National Center
on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2003),
54	 Porter, Lee, and Lutz, 2002.
55	 Ibid.; The Sentencing Project, Report of the Sentencing Project
to the United Nations Human Rights Committee Regarding
Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System,
(Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project, 2013), 1,
E7MQ-A6XX and Kirk R. Williams and Richard Hawkins, “Perceptual
Research on General Deterrence: A Critical Review,” Law & Society
Review 20, no. 4 (1986), 564.
56	 Ram Subramanian and Alison Shames, Sentencing and Prison
Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the
United States (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2013), https://
57	 Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western, and Steve Redburn, eds., The
Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and
Consequences (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press,
2014), 326,
58	 Dana Goldstein, “Too Old to Commit Crime?,” The Marshall Project,
March 20, 2015,
59	 Patrick Langan and David Levin, Recidivism of Prisoners Released
in 1994 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of
Justice Statistics, 2002), 1, Tracy
Velazquez, The Pursuit of Safety: Sex Offender Policy in the United
States (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2008), 6, https://perma.
cc/TCF8-PKV5 R. Karl Hanson and Monique T. Bussiere, “Predicting
Relapse: A Meta-Analysis of Sexual Offender Recidivism Studies,”
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 66, no. 2 (1998), 357;
Patrick Langan, Erica Schmitt and Matthew Durose, Recidivism of
Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994 (Washington, DC: U.S.

Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice
Statistics, 2003), 13-14,
60	 Mariel Alper, “By the Numbers: Parole Release and Revocation Across
50 States,” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2016), http://; Joan Petersilia, When Prisoners Come
Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2003), 55-65; American Probation and Parole Association,
“Discretionary Parole,” (Lexington, KY: APPA, 2002), https://perma.
61	 Alison Lawrence, Cutting Corrections Costs: Earned Time Policies for
State Prisoners (Denver: National Conference of State Legislatures,
62	 Doris J. James and Lauren E. Glaze, Mental Health Problems of
Prison and Jail Inmates, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report
(Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, BJS, 2006, NCJ 213600), 1-2 and 7-8,
Z6XC-TAK9 Edward P. Mulvey, “Assessing the Evidence of a Link
Between Mental Illness and Violence,” Psychiatric Services 45, no. 7
(1994), 663-68,
63	 Deborah Prothrow-Stith and Michael Weissman, Deadly
Consequences: How Violence Is Destroying Our Teenage Population
and a Plan to Begin Solving the Problem (New York: HarperCollins,
1991); James Collins and Pamela Messerschmidt, “Epidemiology of
Alcohol-Related Violence,” Alcohol Health and Research World 17,
no. 2 (1993), 93-100; Paul J. Goldstein, “Drugs and Violent Crime” in
Pathways to Criminal Violence, edited by Neil A. Weiner and Marvin
E. Wolfgang (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1989, NCJ
118926), 16-48; Helene White, “Alcohol, Illicit Drugs, and Violence” in
Handbook of Antisocial Behavior, edited by David M. Stoff, James
Breiling, and Jack D. Maser (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1997),
64	 National Institute of Mental Health, “The Teen Brain: Still Under
Construction,” NIH Publication No. 11-4929, 2011,
65	 Francis T. Cullen, Cheryl Lero Jonson, and Daniel S. Nagin, “Prisons
Do Not Reduce Recidivism: The High Cost of Ignoring Science,” The
Prison Journal 91, no. 3 supplement (2011) 48S–65S, https://perma.
cc/Y8KY-6BSU Paul Gendreau, Claire Goggin, Francis T. Cullen, and
Donald A. Andrews, Forum on Corrections Research 12, no. 2 (2000),
10-13; Paula Smith, Claire Goggin, and Paul Gendreau, The Effects
of Prison Sentences and Intermediate Sanctions on Recidivism:
General Effects and Individual Differences, (Ottawa: Public Works
and Government Services Canada, 2002, JS42-103/2002); Patrice
Villettaz, Martin Killias, and Isabelle Zoder, The Effects of Custodial
vs. Noncustodial Sentences on Re-Offending: A Systematic Review of
the State of Knowledge, (Philadelphia: The Campbell Collaboration
Crime and Justice Group, 2006); Daniel S. Nagin, Francis T. Cullen,
and Cheryl Lero Jonson, “Imprisonment and Reoffending,” in Crime
and Justice: A Review of Research 38, no. 1, edited by Michael Tonry
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 115-200; Cheryl Lero
Jonson, “The Impact of Imprisonment on Reoffending: A Meta-

Analysis” (PhD diss., University of Cincinnati, 2010), 45-65; Anthony
Petrosino, Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino, and Sarah Guckenburg, Formal
System Processing of Juveniles: Effects on Delinquency (Oslo: The
Campbell Collaboration, 2010); Ted Chiricos, Kelle Barrick, William
Bales, and Stephanie Bontrager, “The Labeling of Convicted Felons
and Its Consequences for Recidivism,” Criminology 45, no. 3 (2007),
547-581; and Michael Mueller-Smith, Criminal and Labor Market
Impacts of Incarceration, 2015,
66	 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of
Justice Statistics, “Reentry Trends in the U.S.,” updated December 2,
67	 Rachel Porter, Sophia Lee, and Mary Lutz, Balancing Punishment and
Treatment: Alternatives to Incarceration in New York City (New York:
Vera Institute of Justice, 2002).
68	 See National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College,; and Cure Violence, http://cureviolence

Statistics Special Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice,
Office of Justice Programs, BCS, 2003, NCJ 197976), 1, https://perma.
79	 Linda G. Tucker, Lockstep and Dance: Images of Black Men in Popular
Culture (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2000); Robert
M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki, The Black Image in the White
Mind: Media and Race in America (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2000); Robert M. Entman and Kimberly A. Gross, “Race to
Judgment: Stereotyping Media and Criminal Defendants,” Law
and Contemporary Problems 71 (2008), 98, citing Travis L. Dixon
and Daniel Linz, “Race and the Misrepresentation of Victimization
on Local Television News,” Communication Research 27, no. 5
(2000), 93-133,
cgi?article=1495&context=lcp; Michael Rich, Elizabeth R. Woods,
Elizabeth Goodman, S. Jean Emans, and Robert H. DuRant,
“Aggressors or Victims: Gender and Race in Music Video Violence,”
Pediatrics 101, no. 4 (1998), and Robert
M. Entman, Young Men of Color in the Media: Images and Impacts
(Washington, DC: Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies,

69	 See Roca,
80	 Hartney and Vuong, 2009.
70	 See Legislative Analyst’s Office: The California Legislature’s
Nonpartisan Fiscal and Policy Advisor,
71	 See National Compadres Network,
72	 See the Center for Nonviolence & Social Justice’s Healing Hurt
People program,; and Youth Alive,
73	 See the member organizations of HealingWorks,
74	 Steven N. Durlauf and Daniel S. Nagin, “Imprisonment and Crime: Can
Both Be Reduced?,”Criminological and Public Policy 10, no. 1, (2011),
13-54; Durlauf and Nagin, “The Deterrent Effect of Imprisonment,” in
Controlling Crime: Strategies and Tradeoffs, edited by Philip J. Cook,
Jens Ludwig, and Justin McCrary (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2012), 43-94,
75	 Judith A. Greene and Vincent Schiraldi, “Better by Half: The New York
City Story of Winning Large-Scale Decarceration While Increasing
Public Safety,” Federal Sentencing Reporter 29, no. 1 (2016),
76	 Ibid., 35.
77	 Annie E. Casey Foundation, Data Book: State Trends in Child WellBeing (Baltimore: AECF, 2013), 15,
78	 The Sentencing Project, 2013, 1; and Thomas P. Bonczar, Prevalence
of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974-2001, Bureau of Justice

81	 NAACP, “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet,”
82	 Alexander, 2012, 20-28.
83	 U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation “Crime
in the United States 2013,” Jill Leovy,
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America (New York: Spiegel &
Grau, 2015); and Martin Kaste, “How Many Crimes Do Your Police
‘Clear’? Now You Can Find Out,”, March 30, 2015,
84	 David Cole, No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American
Criminal Justice System (New York, The New Press, 1999), 132-153.
85	 “The Counted: People Killed by Police in the US,” updated December
86	 Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race,
Crime and the Making of Modern America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2010); and David M. Kennedy, 2009.
87	 Sakala, 2014.
88	 John Caniglia, “White Women Sent to Ohio Prisons in Record
Numbers, Reports Say,” The Plain Dealer, August 15, 2013,
89	 See U.S. Department of Education, 2016; and Henrichson and Delaney,

The framework offered here reflects the contributions of many people to
whom I am deeply indebted for their wisdom, time, and feedback. While
the mistakes here are my own, the insights are surely shared. Thanks are
due here (in alphabetical order) to Michelle Alexander, Lenore Anderson,
Jalon Arthur, Daryl Atkinson, sujatha baliga, Paul Butler, DaMareo Cooper,
Todd Clear, James Doyle, Richard Dudley, Marie Gottschalk, Judy Greene,
Norris Henderson, Alison Holcomb, Susan Jackson, Michael Jacobson, Kirk
James, Alan Jenkins, Lorenzo Jones, Stephen JohnsonGrove, Bill Keller,
David Kennedy, Ryan King, Sheryl Kubiak, Glenn Martin, Marilyn Metzler,
Khalil Muhammad, Fatimah Muhammad, Devah Pager, Nicole Porter, John
Rich, Scott Roberts, Rashad Robinson, Robert Rooks, Laura Sager, gabriel
sayegh, Vincent Schiraldi, Marc Schindler, Shari Silberstein, Gary Slutkin,
Bryan Stevenson, Jeremy Travis, and Bruce Western, all of whom informed
this report, and many of whom offered crucial elements to the analysis and
essential feedback on early drafts. I am deeply grateful to the Vera team,
including Nick Turner, Mary Crowley, Kevin Keenan, and Jim Parsons, who
offered essential insight into this report; to Gloria Mendoza for the design;
and to Erika Turner, Ram Subramanian, and the unrivaled Jules Verdone
for their editorial acumen. Huge thanks are owed to the formidable team
at Common Justice, who put this framework into action every day and
teach me immeasurably along the way. And finally, I am indebted to all the
harmed and responsible parties who have participated in our work over the
past decade — I hope this honors what they have taught me through their
hard work and transformation.


About Citations
As researchers and readers alike rely more and more on public knowledge made available through the Internet, “link rot” has become a widely
acknowledged problem with creating useful and sustainable citations. To
address this issue, the Vera Institute of Justice is experimenting with the
use of (, a service that helps scholars, journals,
and courts create permanent links to the online sources cited in their work.

© Vera Institute of Justice 2017. All rights reserved.
Cover photo: Orlando massacre vigil in Philadelphia, iStock image
An electronic version of this report is posted on Vera’s website at
Common Justice is a demonstration project of the Vera Institute of Justice.
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 partnerships 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. For more
information, visit
For more information about this report, contact Common Justice at

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