All signs indicate that the United States is leaving an era of mass incarceration and is on the cusp of an era of decarceration. However, the challenge of decarceration is far greater than simply reducing the use of incarceration; it involves building an array of policy and practice innovations that replace incarceration. We have a unique opportunity to rethink, redefine, and reimagine the criminal justice system and shape the emerging decarceration movement.
To launch this area of work, Smart Decarceration Initiative (SDI) hosted the first national conference on decarceration, From Mass Incarceration to Effective and Sustainable Decarceration, on September 24–27, 2015. More than 150 thought-provoking and inspiring leaders in policy, practice, advocacy, and research joined us at Washington University in St. Louis to present their work, engage in meaningful discussion, and help set an agenda for moving decarceration forward. The conference promoted collaboration across disciplines and sectors and stimulated scientifically driven, practical, and applied policy and community-based social innovations. To ensure effective and sustainable decarceration, we must plan and do the difficult work of developing a “smart” approach—one that is evidence-driven and grounded in a social justice orientation.