The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Smart on Crime: the DOJ's Plan for Reforming the Criminal Justice System

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has recently released a report detailing the preliminary results of its comprehensive review of the criminal justice system. The report, "Smart on Crime: Reforming the Criminal Justice System for the 21st Century," responds to the original goals of Attorney General (AG) Eric Holder in launching the review in early 2013: the identification of obstacles, inefficiencies, inequities, and ineffective policies within the current criminal justice system. AG Holder, in his remarks last month at the Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association (ABA), stressed the increasing need for system reform to better protect the American people from crime - especially through identifying aspects of the system that may actually exacerbate problems of poverty, criminality, and incarceration, rather than alleviate them.

Following an evaluation of the review findings, this report outlines five main goals for effective reform of the current criminal justice system:

  1. Prioritize prosecutions to focus on most serious cases.
  2. Reform sentencing to eliminate unfair disparities and reduce overburdened prisons.
  3. Pursue alternatives to incarceration for low-level, non-violent crimes.
  4. Improve reentry to curb repeat offenses and revictimization.
  5. 'Surge' resources to violence prevention and protecting most vulnerable populations.

A main point of the report, as indicated in the five goals, is the evaluation of the nation's incarceration system. At the ABA meeting, AG Holder indicated that while the population of the United States has grown by about a third since 1980, the population of incarcerated Americans has grown by a staggering 800 percent, with the costs to state and federal governments increasing at a similar pace. In order to curb increasing rates of recidivism and to avoid undue burden on families and taxpayers alike, the report states that the criminal justice system must focus not only on fair punishments, but deterrence, rehabilitation, and reentry as well.

"In the months ahead, the Department will continue to hone an approach that is not only more efficient, and not only more effective at deterring crime and reducing recidivism, but also more consistent with our nation’s commitment to treating all Americans as equal under the law."