This past week, the 2009 Marquette Law School Public Service Conference focused on the efforts of communities across the nation to rethink criminal justice policy with a greater emphasis on community involvement in both planning and implementation. Over the past two decades, Wisconsin has more than quintupled its public expenditures for corrections. At the same time, local communities have struggled with increasing jail populations and declining resources for treatment and reentry services. At the core of this challenge is the desire to keep communities safe while providing more effective alternatives to long term incarceration.
These challenges are not unique to Wisconsin. As keynote speaker Jeremy Travis pointed out,
As our nation has reacted to rising crime rates over the years, the response of many elected officials has been to turn to the funnel [arrest, prosecution and incarceration,] as a crime control strategy. . . . We have invested enormous sums of money in these crime control strategies, with profound consequences. . . . Most strikingly, the national rate of incarceration has more than quadrupled over the past generation so that America now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
This approach has been accompanied by a drop in the crime rate. It also has had other sociological consequences which are not as easily quantifiable.
Because this now traditional approach to crime control and abeyance has captured so many of our communities’ resources, any alternative approaches have been marginal at best. Yet, where such rethinking has occurred, results in both crime and recidivism reduction have been impressive. The key to most of these alternative approaches — whether mediation, restorative justice, community policing, or justice councils — is a committed and long-term investment by public leadership and engagement with those local neighborhoods that are most entangled with the criminal justice system.
Our hope is that this conference sparked imaginative thinking about the possibilities of community engagement and alternative approaches, without denying the clear need to keep communities safe. We invite you to contribute your comments through this blog. Here is a place for honest debate about a critical public policy. We look forward to hearing from you.