NYU law professor and author Rachel Barkow offers solutions for tackling America’s criminal justice crisis.
The forces that created and perpetuate mass incarceration have been entrenched for decades. In her book, Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration, New York University law professor Rachel Barkow details solutions for fixing the system’s myriad problems. She talked to the Brennan Center’s Ruth Sangree about some of them.
What is the best-case scenario for criminal justice reform in the coming years?
It involves reform at the state and federal level. It gives us a president who is committed to making criminal justice reform a top priority and uses the bully pulpit to educate the public about all the reforms that are needed as a matter of both fairness and public safety.
A third key aspect is to change the way laws define crimes. Too often laws group together people of wildly different levels of culpability. A category like “sex offender” includes violent rapists and teens who sext each other. “Career criminals” or “three strikes” laws end up grouping together people who have committed acts of extreme violence with those who have no violent actions in their past. Our laws need to do a better job recognizing that we need smaller categories, because when we put larger groups under one umbrella, inevitably the entire group gets treated as if they are the worst possible type of offender in that category, and we get excessive sentencing as a result.