In the preface to the new National Research Council report on mass incarceration is an acknowledgement of legendary criminologist James Q. Wilson, who conceived the project in 2008. Who better, it must have seemed at the time, to call for change in U.S. incarceration policy than a group of star academics working under the auspices of a convener of enormous stature? The incarceration rate had been rising every year for over three decades, annual prison admissions were near an all-time high, politicians were trying to out-tough each other on sentencing, no mandatory minimum sentence had been repealed since Nixon’s presidency, marijuana possession enforcement was tough, and the addiction treatment which could have been an alternative to prison for many offenders was grossly underfunded.
What can we learn from the fact that every single one of these things changed before the NRC report Wilson envisioned finally appeared last week?
In asking this question, I am not trying to diminish the brilliant people who labored to produce such an impressive synthesis of research. A number of them I regard as friends, all of them I respect, indeed so much so that I am one of the few people who is actually in the midst of reading their 464-page volume end to end. But that does not ameliorate my doubt that mammoth reports painstakingly assembled by huge committees are the most effective way for socially-responsible academics to shape public policy formation and debate. Continue reading “The New Report on Mass Incarceration Makes an Unimpeachable Case for: Public Policy Blogging”