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CJCJ’s Senior Research Fellow Randall Shelden and Executive Director Daniel Macallair at the 70th Annual ASC Conference

CJCJ Media

Over 5000 speakers on criminal justice issues, from over 40 countries, recently converged in San Francisco at the 70th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology; this year themed: Criminology at the Intersection of Oppression’.

With scholars, advocates and other stakeholders discussing problems old and new, near and far, the driving force was clear: the commitment of this group to effect reform. This included addressing the negative consequences of incarceration for individuals, families, and communities. Some of the topics covered included placing incarceration in the United States within the world perspective, reviewing California’s place among national practices, and focussing on the experiences of individuals involved in the justice system.

Numerous panels discussed findings documented in the book: The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. With a committee of authors this National Academy of Sciences book documents a wealth of research. It recommends significantly reducing incarceration, particularly by re-examining mandatory minimum sentences and long sentences. It also highlights the need to reduce unnecessary harm caused to incarcerated individuals, their families and their communities. The book can be downloaded for free. However, here are some snapshots highlighted by the authors:

  • U.S. incarceration is now four times higher than in 1972
  • 1 in every 100 adults in the U.S. is incarcerated; a rate 5 to 10 times higher than Western Europe and other democracies. 
  • As the rate of incarceration has increased, so has the disproportionate risk of incarceration for African American men, particularly for those who dropped out of school.
  • The number of incarcerated individuals with an unmet drug treatment need has increased: 50% have a drug or alcohol problem.
  • The number of hospitalized mental health patients has plummeted, yet 50% of incarcerated individuals have mental health needs.

Several panels focussed on research by the Public Policy Institute of California into the effects of Realignment on crime rates. These reports and others are available here. They found that counties focussing on re-entry strategies and treatment, rather than law enforcement and surveillance, typically experienced a reduction in arrests and convictions, suggesting that realignment has been successful when implemented carefully.

Focussing on direct experiences of justice-involved individuals, CJCJ’s Senior Research Fellow Randall Shelden and his co-author Meda Chesney-Lind, celebrated the release of the 4th edition of their award-winning book: Girls, Delinquency, and Juvenile Justice’, by receiving questions from a panel of critics, which included CJCJ’s Executive Director, Dan Macallair. Originally published in 1992, this book has been called the bible’ by educators and advocates. Noteworthy observations during the discussion included the lack of evidence-based programs for girls, the need to avoid blaming families for larger economic and cultural problems, and the growing awareness of how trafficked girls are treated by the justice system.

The wealth of knowledge shared at the conference was invaluable. A frequent question was, What can other states learn from California?’ The overall concern was the desperate need for change. The biggest question should now be directed at policy makers: How do we make sentencing reform happen?’