Issues

Laws that heighten penalties for drug activity near schools and other locations frequented by youth have been enacted in all 50 states, but until recently their effectiveness had not been evaluated. Justice Strategies research finds that “drug-free school zone” laws fail to deter drug activity near schools while fueling racial disparity in imprisonment.

The convergence of crime control and immigration enforcement - reflected in rising levels of immigrant detention and imprisonment - has profound implications for both criminal justice and immigration policy. Justice Strategies tracks the growth in the number of immigrants behinds bars and documents the impact of changing law enforcement and sentencing practices on immigrant communities.

Many states have responded to budgetary pressures and the failure of tough-on-crime policies by implementing sensible reforms. But others struggle with crowding and mounting costs. Justice Strategies has worked with policymakers and advocates in several states to pinpoint the causes of prison population growth and craft policy responses that reduce costs while improving public safety.

Faced with tight budgets and public opposition to mounting corrections costs, many states and localities are using lease-revenue bonds and other "off-the-books" mechanisms to fund prison and jail expansion. Since 2003, Justice Strategies has documented the rise of "back-door" prison finance and the risks it poses to the fiscal health of state and local governments.

Proponents argue that prison privatization can cut costs while maintaining or improving the quality of correctional services. But a mounting body of research shows that these promises have not been met. Justice Strategies research examines the impact of privatization at the state and national level, and documents the industry's role in promoting rapid prison population growth.

The U.S. criminal justice system is rife with racial disparities. African Americans are over six times more likely to be imprisoned than whites, while Latinos are incarcerated at more than twice the white rate. Young black men are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses than young white men. Justice Strategies has documented the impact of current policies on communities of color and worked with advocates to craft reforms designed to safely lower levels of racial disparity in imprisonment.

Many states have responded to budgetary pressures and shifts in public opinion by reconsidering LSJtough-on-crime policies, while others struggle to cope with crowding and mounting corrections costs. Justice Strategies has tracked national and state-level sentencing and correctional policy trends; authored a series of major reports on relevant policy issues; and helped policymakers and advocates to develop proposals designed to reduce costs and improve outcomes.

The failure of the "war on drugs" to resolve the problem of substance abuse has led many policymakers to pursue treatment-oriented solutions. Justice Strategies has documented the high cost of drug imprisonment and the benefits of expanding treatment alternatives in several states.

Men have long made up a large majority of those charged, convicted and incarcerated, but the number of women caught up in the criminal justice system is growing rapidly—causing concern among advocates and policymakers. Justice Strategies has worked with the Women's Prison Association's Institute on Women and Criminal Justice to identify and respond to trends in female imprisonment since 2004.