Criminal Justice Reform
For the week of April 23, 2017
America’s prison population has surged since 1970. Scholars and lawmakers are exploring ways to reform our criminal justice system and reduce the rate of incarceration. Michelle Phelps discusses the politics of mass incarceration and her new book, “Breaking the Pendulum: The Long Struggle Over Criminal Justice.”
Guest: Michelle Phelps, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota and a Faculty Affiliate of the Law School’s Robina Institute of Criminal Justice
Rather than see criminal justice reform as a pendulum—swinging back and forth between attitudes of rehabilitation and punishment—Phelps argues that to understand these shifts and what has led to mass incarceration, we should look at reform measures as earthquakes. “We can think about these rupture moments as earthquakes,” Phelps says. “They really shift the terrain, but if you don’t understand that long buildup of pressure that happens before the earthquakes, you’ve misunderstood the earthquakes themselves.”
How can we end mass incarceration in the US? While federal policy is important, 90 percent of the prison population is incarceration in state prisons. “It will take a 50 state effort,” Phelps says. In Minnesota, the prison population has increased 150 percent in the past 25 years; but our incarceration rate is still much lower compared to the vast majority of states. In Minnesota, however, Phelps warns that we should pay greater attention to our massive probation population.
You can find out more about Michelle Phelps and her research at her website: www.michellesphelps.com