The Crisis in the American Criminal Courts highlights a variety of problems that judges, prosecutors, and public defenders face within a criminal justice system that is ineffective, unfair, and extraordinarily expensive. While many argue, and I agree, that crushing caseloads and court dockets certainly qualify as a crisis, I suggest there is a much greater crisis in the courts that results in profound downstream effects on criminal justice performance and outcomes. It sounds simple, but the greatest risk faced by the justice system is the lack of time, expertise, and resources for effective decision-making. In this book, I propose a variety of evidence-based reforms that, as a start, provide the key decision-makers with professional clinical experts to accurately assess and advise regarding mitigating the circumstances that bring individuals into the courts.
We must rebalance. We need incarceration for those who are too dangerous or violent or who are habitual offenders. For most of the rest, we need to manage risk, but very importantly, it is time to get serious about behavioral change.
We need to change the culture of the courthouse and reorient how we think about crime and punishment.
William R. Kelly is professor in the Department of Sociology and director of the Center for Criminology and Criminal Justice Research at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas. He is the author of several books and articles on criminal justice, law, and policy, including Confronting Underground Justice: Reinventing Plea Bargaining for Effective Criminal Justice Reform (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), From Retribution to Public Safety (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), The Future of Crime and Punishment (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), Criminal Justice at the Crossroads (2015), and Justice Under Pressure (1993).
Chapter 1: The U.S. Criminal Court System
Chapter 2: Decision Making in the Criminal Courts
Chapter 3: The Front End of the Pretrial System: Arrest, Detention, and Bail
Chapter 4: Promising Prosecutors: Reform in the DA’s Office
Chapter 5: Indigent Defense
Chapter 6: Rethinking the Adversarial Approach
Chapter 7: Putting the Pieces Together: Fundamental Pretrial and Court Reform
Few would argue that the U.S. criminal justice system is fit for purpose. In 2016, it employed more than 2.1 million people and cost $240 billion, yet recidivism rates remain stubbornly high. Kelly argues that the tough-on-crime policies advocated by many states and district attorneys must be replaced with smart-on-crime, evidence-based reforms. He believes that prosecutorial discretion lies at the heart of reform and that by transforming decision making, prosecutors could effect change; he writes that pretrial and courtroom decisions are particularly ripe for reform. As more progressive prosecutors are elected, Kelly sees hope for meaningful change that focuses less on retributive justice and more on behavioral change models that acknowledge social circumstances associated with crime. He stresses that a key step is identifying criminality and developing assessment and intervention plans, rather than relying on case processing and intuitive decision making, which often allow judges to fall prey to their own biases, including racial bias. Replete with statistics and references, this engaging, compelling book will appeal to both lay and professional readers.