Press Release

New Report Suggests Ways to Improve Public Safety Without Relying on Mass Incarceration

Five Social Interventions to Think Beyond Over-Policing and Mass Incarceration

Related to: Incarceration, Sentencing Reform

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, The Sentencing Project released a report outlining five social interventions that can be implemented by U.S. policymakers and community members to improve public safety without increasing the reliance on mass incarceration. The report, “Ending Mass Incarceration: Safety Beyond Sentencing,” offers recommendations that hold promise for making the country’s communities both safer and more equitable.

The new report comes as the country marks 50 years of mass incarceration, with the prison population expanding by 500% since 1973.

“With 2023 marking 50 years of mass incarceration in the U.S., there’s a clear need to reimagine our public safety infrastructure,” said Liz Komar, Sentencing Reform Counsel at The Sentencing Project and co-author of today’s report. “Policymakers can create safer, fairer, and more equitable communities by combining social interventions that address some of the root causes of crime with legislative reforms that reduce the harm of the criminal legal system.”

Recommendations in the “Ending Mass Incarceration” report include:

  1. Implement community-based safety solutions: Community-based interventions could help decrease violence without incarceration. Such interventions include violence interruption programs that identify and treat people most at risk of violence, detect and interrupt conflicts, and work to change social norms, as well as changes to the built environment, like adding green spaces, cleaning up vacant lots, and improving street lighting.
  2. Transform crisis response: Reliance on police to address the needs of all crisis situations, including responding to people with mental health emergencies, is ineffective and dangerous. Investments in trained community-based responders with expertise in public health approaches have the potential to reduce police shootings, improve safety, and decrease incarceration.
  3. Reduce unnecessary justice involvement: Ending unnecessary police contact and court involvement by decriminalizing certain non-public safety offenses (e.g. loitering) and implementing strategies that avoid formal arrest or prosecution (i.e. diversion programs) can improve safety. For example, a 2017 study showed that youth who participated in a Community Works West diversion program in California were 44% less likely to recidivate compared to similarly situated youth in the youth justice system.
  4. End the drug war: Shifting away from criminalizing people who use drugs toward public health solutions can improve public health and safety. Research shows that improving access to harm reduction services, such as needle exchanges and offering places where people can use drugs in a community setting to prevent overdoses (i.e. supervised consumption sites), can reduce other negative outcomes of drug use.
  5. Strengthen opportunities for youth: Interventions like summer employment opportunities and training youth in effective decision-making skills are promising means of preventing criminal legal involvement.

“Research shows these interventions are more effective at reducing crime and improving public safety, more cost-effective, and more equitable than punitive responses that rely on over-policing and mass incarceration,” said Nicole D. Porter, Senior Director of Advocacy with The Sentencing Project and a co-author of the report. “This country has a powerful opportunity to expand on programs that improve safety while scaling back incarceration.”

Read the full report here.

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