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Will Budget Woes Result in Criminal Justice Reform?

| March 9, 2011

In an article in the Stanford Lawyer, Joan Hamilton asks an important question: “Are we receiving an adequate return in terms of public safety on the huge investment we are making in law enforcement and incarceration?” Because of increasingly tight state budgets, states are being forced to find an answer.

The American criminal justice system operates at a very high cost—the United States has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the developed world, and prison expenditures will cost taxpayers $75 billion in 2011. Hamilton says that previously “policymakers have been reluctant to entertain a cost-benefit analysis” in regards to “tough on crime” policies. But according to Stanford Professor Edwin E. Huddleston, Jr. of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center (SCJC), the greater focus on economic issues has “created a little space where we can think more rationally.”

As a result, more attention is being paid to rehabilitation efforts and policies aimed at lowering recidivism. States across the United States are searching for cost-effective prison and parole programs, and the use of “specialty courts” has become important in getting defendants to change their behavior.

Hamilton also highlights the importance of recent Supreme Court decisions like Blakely and Booker, and notes that, especially in light of last week’s Pepper decision, academic interest in sentencing has increased. Nevertheless, the challenge for state legislators will be “to unwind the excesses, while keeping the crime rates down”. 

Hamilton’s article, Saving the Criminal Justice System: Will the Budget Crisis Force Change?, appeared in the Fall 2010 edition of the Stanford Lawyer.


RIGHT ON CRIME is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy—reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money. By sharing research and policy ideas and mobilizing strong conservative voices, we work to raise awareness of the growing support for effective reforms within the conservative movement. We are transforming the debate on criminal justice in America.