Aspen Institute Puts Forward Framework to Transform U.S. Criminal Justice Continuum

October 29, 2019

Report identifies federal, state, and community-level practices to reduce incarceration, reconsider the prison system, and support returning citizens

Contact: Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Manager
The Aspen Institute
[email protected]

Washington, DC, October 29, 2019–The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions (FCS) today released a report, Ending This Place of Torment: A Framework for Transforming the Criminal Justice Continuum, authored by a Senior FCS Fellow, Dr. Douglas E. Wood. The US incarcerates more individuals than any other nation, holding nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, adding urgency to a framework that scrutinizes the entire criminal justice system from pretrial to post-release support systems. It was presented at the Opportunity Youth Forum Fall 2019 Convening in Aspen, CO, a twice yearly gathering for members of the FCS network focused on national innovations and movement-building efforts.

The report takes a comprehensive approach to reforming the entire “criminal justice continuum,” with emphasis on how each segment has a direct causal effect on the others. At the front end is a focus on preventing and decreasing justice involvement, at the middle is the potential of education to transform the prison experience, and finally at the back comes practices that support the 500,000 citizens who reenter their communities each year. Currently, two-thirds of those released will be re-arrested within three years.

“This work builds upon creative, evidence-based programs, practices and policies on criminal justice transformation that the Aspen FCS seeks to uplift and highlight across a continuum of life experiences for justice involved individuals,” said report author Dr. Douglas E. Wood. “Applying these innovative approaches in a seamless, aligned, comprehensive way in neighborhoods where there are high concentrations of incarceration will go a long way to reduce mass incarceration and punitive excess as we know it in America.”

Practices advocated in the report are identified at the Macro (federal), Meso (state), and Micro (community) level. Examples of key recommendations include:

  • The elimination of mandatory minimums at the federal and state level, and the elimination of cash bail for non-violent offences.
  • The decriminalization of drug possession, in favor of health-based rehabilitation drug programs.
  • Eliminating exclusionary disciplinary policies in schools that result in expelling students, and youth detention centers eliminated by minimizing out-of home placements.
  • Alternatives to incarceration, such as diversion programs, prioritized in communities where there are spatial concentrations of incarceration, and indigent defense strengthened, particularly for undocumented migrants.
  • Restoring Pell Grants for incarcerated students and lifted restrictions on federal student aid eligibility for formally incarcerated individuals.
  • Banning solitary confinement across all prisons and jails.
  • A sustained commitment to higher education in prisons, with top corrections officers and administrators responsible for initiating a culture change, and parole conditions adjusted to allow for returning students’ needs.
  • A “returning citizens” tax credit at the federal and state level for families who house and support returning relatives.
  • Decreased intensity of community supervision for returning citizens, with more transitional support offered via employment, housing, healthcare, and continuing education.

The report references regional community and state programs across the country which have implemented a number of the above recommendations. These examples provide possible templates with the potential to scale, concentrated in areas in areas with high rates of incarceration. The report’s conclusion stresses that the continuum must be addressed in its entirety in order to make progress, with community level approaches requiring state and federal policy support.

The author of the report, Dr. Douglas E. Wood, is a Senior Fellow at the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, with a focus on justice, equity, and opportunity. From 2011-2018, he was a program officer at the Ford Foundation on the Youth Opportunity and Learning team and for nearly two years served as Acting Lead of the foundation’s global Higher Education for Social Justice initiative.

The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions promotes collaborative, community-based efforts that build the power and influence of those with the least access to opportunity, and supports communities to come together to expand mobility, eliminate systemic barriers, and create their own solutions to their most pressing challenges. Launched in 2012 at the Aspen Institute, the Forum for Community Solutions envisions a future where communities create their own vibrant and lasting solutions to the social and economic problems that they face. The Forum for Community Solutions believes that if communities have more power to lead change, we will create a more just and equitable society. For more information, visit us at www.aspencommunitysolutions.org.

The Aspen Institute is a community-serving organization with global reach whose vision is the creation of a free, just, and equitable society. For 70 years, the Institute has driven change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the world’s greatest challenges. With headquarters in Washington, DC, the Institute has offices in Aspen, Colorado and New York City, as well as an international network of partners. Learn more at www.aspeninstitute.org.

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