This new look at crime is moving through the process—we’ve posted on it before, here and here—and while it never hurts to examine public policy in light of new realities, it can be restrictive to enter that examination with uninformed assumptions, as expressed in this editorial from the New York Times.
As most criminal justice professionals realize, the reason prisons and jails are full (rather than "too many" being there) is because of broken-windows policing and three-strikes sentencing, two of the best criminal justice advances of the past several decades.
“The nation’s criminal justice system is in need of an overhaul. This is particularly true of its incarceration policies. Too many people are being put behind bars who do not need to be there, at great cost to the states, and not enough attention is being paid to helping released prisoners re-enter society.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted to create a blue-ribbon commission to study the justice system and offer reforms. The bill’s main sponsor was Jim Webb, a Democrat of Virginia who is one of the Senate’s more thoughtful voices on crime and punishment.
“Among the issues the commission would study is why the United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. Prisons are filled with a large number of nonviolent offenders, including minor drug offenders. In many cases, it would be more humane, economical and effective to provide drug treatment and mental health alternatives.”