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Curing America's Addiction to Prisons

NCJ Number
Fordham Urban Law Journal Volume: 20 Issue: 3 Dated: Spring 1993 Pages: 641-657
D C Leven
Date Published
17 pages
This article cites the adverse consequences of incarceration as the centerpiece of corrections policy in America and proposes adoption of the restorative justice model for corrections.
The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration of any industrialized nation in the world. During the 1980s the prison population increased faster in New York State than across the country, beginning the decade at approximately 21,000 inmates and ending at 51,000, a 150-percent increase. This expanded use of prisons has come at great expense to taxpayers. Spending on corrections is the second fastest growing item in State budgets; in New York there has been a 13-percent annual rate of increase since 1986, absorbing much of the growth in State revenues. Current sentencing policies have resulted in the incarceration of a disproportionate number of minorities and women, primarily nonviolent offenders and offenders who are uneducated, unemployed, and who have a drug problem. State and nationwide statistics show that there is no nexus between crime and incarceration rates. What is needed is a shift from a punishment model of justice to one that emphasizes restoration, such as the restorative justice model. This model defines crime as a violation by one person against another rather than as an offense against the state. It encourages the victim and the offender to view one another as persons and to seek to repair the damage caused by the offense, so that the offender is held accountable and reparation for the victim is achieved. Guidelines for achieving a restorative system of justice include State adoption of a comprehensive community corrections act, the termination of mandatory prison sentences, short and determinate prison sentences for felons, and the shifting of resources from corrections to crime prevention programs. 81 footnotes