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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States

Exploring Causes and Consequences

Prepared by committee chair, Jeremy Travis, vice-chair Bruce Western, and a committee including Harvard faculty Devah Pager and Rob Sampson, the National Research Council (NRC) report, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, provides the first comprehensive assessment of research on how we got to such a high incarceration rate and its impact on the population. 

The report recommends that incarceration rates be significantly reduced, that prison conditions be closely monitored to ensure the rights and dignity of those incarcerated, and that social policy be buttressed to adjust to community needs in a climate of reduced prison populations. The Committee on Law and Justice hosted a public briefing and webcast on April 30, 2014 to provide an overview of findings and recommendations from its new report. Bruce Western (HKS and PCJ), vice chair of the committee, was one of the presenters at this briefing.

The National Research Council (NRC)/National Academies published a video on March 17, 2015 about the findings of the committee's report. The nation's reliance on imprisonment has not clearly improved public safety and may have had large unwanted consequences for society. A change in course is needed. The report urges policymakers to reconsider sentencing policies and to seek crime-control strategies that are more effective, with better public safety benefits and fewer unwanted consequences.

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Download the National Research Council (NRC) report The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences