By Citlalli Florez
WASHINGTON, DC – The Sentencing Project recently released a report outlining social interventions that could be implemented by lawmakers and community members to make communities safer without having to increase mass incarceration.
The report is titled “Ending Mass Incarceration: Safety Beyond Sentencing,” and was released as the country marks 50 years of mass incarceration when the prison population increased by 500 percent, beginning in the 1970s.
Liz Komar, sentencing reform counsel at the Sentencing Project, stated, “With 2023 marking 50 years of mass incarceration in the U.S there’s a clear need to reimagine our public safety infrastructures.
“Policymakers can create safer, fairer, and more equitable communities by combining social interventions that address some of the root causes of crime with legislative reforms that reduce the harm of the criminal legal system.”
The first one is to implement community-based solutions that, according to the Sentencing Project, “could decrease violence without incarceration.”
Examples given included violence interruption programs that identify and treat those most at risk of violence, detecting and interrupting conflicts, working to change social norms, changing the built environment, adding green spaces, cleaning up vacant lots and improving street lighting.
The second recommendation was to transform how to respond to crises. The Sentencing Project writes, “Reliance on police to address the needs of all crisis situations, including responding to people with mental health emergencies, is ineffective and dangerous.”
Examples given by the report include investing in trained community responders with expertise in public health, improving safety and decreasing incarceration.
The third recommendation is to reduce unnecessary justice involvement, said TSP, noting, “Ending unnecessary police contact and court involvement by decriminalizing certain nonpublic safety offenses and implementing strategies to avoid formal arrest or prosecution can improve safety.”
A study conducted in 2017, said the report, showed that youth who participated in a Community Works West Diversion Program were 44 percent less likely to recidivate compared to other youth in the same situation in the youth justice system.
The fourth recommendation in the report is to end the drug war, stating, “Shifting away from criminalizing people who use drugs toward public health solutions can improve public health and safety.”
Based on research, said the report, improving access to harm reduction services can reduce other negative outcomes. Examples given were providing needle exchanges and offering places where people can use drugs in a community setting to prevent overdoses.
The final recommendation was to strengthen opportunities for youth, said the report, which added, “Interventions like summer employment opportunities and training youth in effective decision making skills are promising means of preventing criminal legal involvement.”
Senior Director of Advocacy with the Sentencing Project and coauthor of the report Nicole D. Porter, writes, “Research shows these interventions are more effective at reducing crime and improving public safety, more cost-effective, and more equitable than punitive responses that rely on over-policing and mass incarceration.”