Smart Decarceration Initiative: Transforming Criminal Justice in America
The era of mass incarceration, which made the United States the world’s leading jailer, appears to be coming to an end. What is likely to follow is an era of decarceration, aimed at reducing the incarcerated population. For the country to achieve effective and sustainable decarceration—smart decarceration—the following three goals must be accomplished:
  1. Substantially reduce the incarcerated population in jails and prisons.
  2. Redress the existing social disparities among the incarcerated.
  3. Maximize public safety and well-being.

In order for effective and sustainable decarceration to occur, we must follow four guiding concepts to achieve the smart decarceration goals and transform the criminal justice system:

  1. Changing the narrative on incarceration and the incarcerated. The smart decarceration approach must examine the utility and function of incarceration, challenge the existing view of currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, and actively welcome those individuals as leaders in decarceration efforts.
  2. Making criminal justice system-wide innovations. Criminal justice transformation that leads to smart decarceration will require advances in all sectors of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, court systems, jails and prisons, and community supervision.
  3. Implementing transdisciplinary policy and practice interventions. Smart decarceration will be complex and comprehensive and will require integrating perspectives from multiple disciplines to produce substantive policy reforms and practice innovations.
  4. Employing evidence-driven strategies. The smart decarceration approach must both generate new evidence for optimal reforms and use existing evidence to guide decision-making and program development. Methods must be integrated to continuously examine and assess the effects of policy and practice interventions, thus developing further evidence from which to act.

The 2015 inaugural conference of the Smart Decarceration Initiative brought together thought-provoking and inspiring leaders in policy, practice and research to set an actionable agenda for reforming the American criminal justice system in ways that are humane, socially just, and promote public well-being.

To view the keynote presentations, plenary speakers, and panels, visit the links below:

 To view the PowerPoint presentations from each panel:  

One major outcome of the conference will be an edited volume that details evidence, conceptual frameworks, and an action plan for sustainable and effective decarceration. The volume will be widely distributed to facilitate thoughtful, effective action.

The conference was organized by the Smart Decarceration Initiative and these partner organizations:

Conference sponsors included:

Learn more: