Its unlikely that it made any of  the 2011 trend lists.  But it should have:

Whats Out :Being tough on crime by throwing people in prison.

Whats In:Being smart about crime by putting serious offenders behind bars and finding alternative and more cost effective punishments for nonviolent offenders.

Its true.  For the first time in more than thirty years, weve got both the left and the right calling for a more sensible way to deal with crime in the U.S.   Two years afterSenator James Webb,D-VAbecame the lone wolf decrying the nonsense of the U.S. imprisoning people at a rate five times the worlds average, even conservatives have embraced the need to do something to repair a costly and ineffective system that doesnt make us any safer.

Ill admit I was a little skeptical when I first started reading aboutRight on Crime, the conservative organization backed by such Republican luminaries as Newt Gingrich, William Bennett and Grover Norquist.   After reading their proposals, however, Im encouraged that a platform being advanced by the folks who usually campaign to lock up lawbreakers no matter the cost, may actually lead to some real change.   For one, they make no bones about laying out what the problem is and how we got to our current state of diminishing returns:

Under the incarceration-focused solution, societies were safer to the extent that dangerous people were incapacitated, but when offenders emerged from prison with no job prospects, unresolved drug and mental health problems, and diminished connections to their families and communities they were prone to return to crime.

All of this, is of course, true, and something that most people can agree on regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum.  Obviously, the reason were looking at it now is primarily budgetary.  Its just too expensive to put so many people in prison.  But if that can spur reform, Ill take it.

One of the provisions Im most intrigued about is the conservatives desire to deal with the whole issue of negligent hiring suits, which make so many employers reluctant to hire parolees.   Reducing the potential risk of such lawsuits could  go a long way towards bringing down recidivism, since people with jobs are less likely to commit new crimes.   The challenge is to see whether this will change how employers behave in a labor market with double-digit unemployment.

In two recent New York Times opinion pieces, author Tina Rosenberg alsoemphasized that prisoner re-entry has become a hot topic in the field of corrections, largely because of the increasing number of people being released (many as states cut back on budgets).  She also did a great job ofdescribing the challenges faced by returneesand describing the patchwork nature of reentry programs highlighting a few like the renownedDelancey Streetresidence in San Francisco andFortune SocietysFortune Academy (known as The Castle), which work.  Theres also a piecehereciting programs in states like Michigan, that have been successful in helping ex-inmates find jobs.

What do you think is going to happen in terms of criminal justice reform?   Earlier this month,Senator Webb and The Prison Fellowship sponsored a symposium at George Mason on Undoing the Effects of Mass Incarceration.  The State ofLouisiana recently announced its going to take the plunge to reform its prison system.  Will this all be a lot of talk or will/can the country follow suit?

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Tagged ascriminal justice commission act of 2009criminal justice reformcriminal justice reform act of 2009Delancey StreetGMU Symposium on Undoing the Effects of Mass IncarcerationGrover NordquistJames WebbLouisiana prison reformnegligent hiring lawsuitsNew York TimesNewt GingrichPew Center for the Statesprisoner re-entryright on crimeThe CastleThe Fortune AcademyThe Fortune SocietyThe Prison FellowshipTina Rosenbergtransitional housing for ex-offendersWilliam Bennett

International Community Corrections Association

International Corrections and Prisons Association

Federal Bureau of Prisons Ex-offender resources

National Directory of Programs for Women with Criminal Justice Involvement

Restorative Justice Community Organizations Resource Directory

U.S. Department of Justice Reentry Programs

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