What We Know (and Don't Know) about Criminal Justice Policy

How can criminal justice policy best secure public safety and human flourishing for all, including former offenders? This is a tough question that deserves the careful attention of social scientists armed with tested theory, technical skill, and big data. While the necessary research is complex, with a little bit of the "economic way of thinking" and a survey of some of the economics literature, anyone can uncover some broadly valuable lessons from even the most cutting-edge research. This course will break down for a general audience what we can say, and what is still unknown, about the various trade-offs inherent in criminal justice. For example, for what crimes do more severe sentences improve public safety, albeit at the nontrivial costs to public budgets, community wholeness, and offenders' families? And in what cases is there apparently no trade-off because longer sentences actually increase future criminal activity? Just as research suggests that universally harsher sentences are not always the answer to reducing criminal activity, there are unexpected lessons to be found at other stages of the criminal justice process. We'll consider many of these as well as current efforts at criminal justice reform which are finding wide support across the political spectrum.


Recommended Readings

Acton PowerBlog Series on Criminal Justice Reform https://blog.acton.org/archives/tag/criminal-justice-series

Smart Sentencing Guideline: The effect of marginal policy changes on recidivism by Estelle and Phillips https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0047272718300860 (available from author upon request)

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