HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy


Starting with the Nixon administration in the early 1970s, and gaining steam throughout the next decade, the prevailing view on criminal justice was that “tough on crime laws make crime rates go down.” That sentiment was predicated on the notion that criminals were not being sufficiently punished for their offenses, and that sentences must be increased—including mandatory minimums and “three strikes laws”—both to remove criminals from communities, and to deter others from committing crimes. The incarceration rate more than tripled between 1980 and its peak in 2008, from 310 to 1,000 prisoners per 100,000 adults—some 2.3 million people in all. Today, the United States leads the world in incarceration, with a rate more than 4 times that of comparable democracies in Western Europe. Reform of the criminal justice system must take into account each stage of the process, respecting the due process rights of individuals throughout their interaction with the system while at the same time bringing criminals to justice and improving overall public safety.


Shattuck, John, and Mathias Risse. "Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States: Criminal Justice and Public Safety." Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, February 10, 2021.