Pettus-Davis and panelists launch Smart Decarceration book

​About 65 people participated in the October 17 event to celebrate the new book “Smart Decarceration: Achieving Criminal Justice Transformation in the 21st Century,” led by co-editor Carrie Pettus-Davis, PhD, at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work. 

Pettus-Davis highlighted trends in incarceration rates in the United States, which were rapidly increasing until 2008, when they plateaued and  since have decreased. 

“The United States is moving out of an era of mass incarceration and into an era of smart decarceration,” she said.

Pettus-Davis is the co-director of the Smart Decarceration Initiative (SDI) and co-editor of the book with Matthew Epperson, PhD.  She moderated a vibrant panel discussion on how decarceration strategies specifically apply to the St. Louis region. 

The panelists included Dan Isom, PhD, retired chief of police in the City of St. Louis, George Lombardi, former director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, Stacey Lannert, women’s health coordinator at the Office on Women’s Health in the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Sterling Brown, assistant dean of students at St. Louis University High, and Annie Grier, project manager of SDI.

Pettus-Davis posed questions to the panelists from the book, and the discussion focused on the need for an investment in adequate mental health services, access to employment opportunities, and education as factors that would reduce the numbers of incarcerated people and prevent recidivism. 

The panelists emphasized that when formerly incarcerated individuals have access to such resources, they often do not end up back in the system.

“There’s not another system that we allow to fail so spectacularly without any real accountability for the results that it churns out,” Grier said when asked about agency accountability within the criminal justice system.

The book is a product of SDI’s inaugural conference in 2015 at the Brown School. SDI is based the Center for Social Development and in partnership with University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.

Panelists also discussed public perceptions of safety as a barrier to smart decarceration. Dan Isom said he believes this is because of the violence associated with crimes in the United States as a result of the easy availability of guns. “Because of that, people are much more afraid of any crime committed in America and by extension, we put more punishment and keep people in jail longer,” he said.

Pettus-Davis concluded the evening by highlighting three calls to action the discussion posed. First, that smart decarceration must be a collective effort. Second, that for change to happen, many people must take leadership roles within their communities. Third, that formerly incarcerated people must be involved in the discussions and have leadership roles.

“We cannot have a serious movement about moving a country towards smart decarceration and completely leave out people that have been a part of the system or experienced contact with the system,” Grier said.

In addition to the launch of the new book, which can be ordered through Oxford University Press at a discounted rate, the Smart Decarceration Initiative will have its second national conference next month. The conference, “Tools and Tactics: Promising Solutions to Advance the Era of Smart Decarceration,” is November 2-4 at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Click here to learn more about the agenda and to register.