Commentary from CCJ Leaders

The Council seeks to provide a forum for honest discourse among leaders with varied perspectives, ideologies, and expertise. In that spirit, we solicited short reactions to this report from our members.

Marissa Dodson
Public Policy Director
Southern Center for Huma
n Rights
Member, CCJ Board of Directo

Our country's history with intentional and pervasive racism has had a profound impact on criminal legal systems which led to stark disparities. This report by CCJ is an important contribution to continued criminal justice reform efforts because it comprehensively explains the recent changes to racial and gender disparities in a way that should evoke inquiry from policymakers. It is certainly encouraging to find that racial and gender disparities are on the decline – which was primarily due to the avoidance of incarceration for people who do not pose public safety risks – but there is still much work to be done to eliminate racial and gender bias.

The disparities remain substantial and cannot adequately be addressed until there are targeted policies focused on the root causes of these disparities that exist long before arrest. Without the intention to address disparities, these declines should be seen as unintended but positive collateral consequences of recent reforms. In the wake of one of the worst economic recessions in history, governments were forced to find ways to reduce correctional costs and increase government efficiency. In the coming years, it will be critical for reformers to build on these kinds of reports to identify ways to directly address disparities and adopt further reforms designed to completely rid our criminal legal systems of bias.

Tim Head
Executive Director
Faith & Freedom Coalition
Member, CCJ Board of Directors

Etched over the entrance to the Supreme Court of the United States reads one of the most elemental phrases of our Republic: “Equal Justice Under Law.” It is core to the functioning of our society. But we cannot ignore data showing that incarceration rates from 1870 to 1980 were significantly higher for African Americans than for any other ethnic group in America. We now see that from 2000 to 2016, racial disparities declined across American prison, jail, probation, and parole populations. But we also know that our overall population of incarcerated Americans ballooned by multiples from the 1980s to the mid-2010s.

Our conversations about the justice system have tended to be charged with too much political posturing and too few positive results. If we are going to make our communities more safe and more fair, we must have focused investigations into what is happening and sober-minded dialogues about what can be done. This study is a very real contribution to our national knowledge of these issues and I, for one, look forward to digesting its profound findings with colleagues from across the country in pursuit of equal justice for all Americans under law.

Tani Santil-Sakauye
Chief Justice
California Supreme Court
Member, CCJ Board of Trustees

As a result of several factors, the past decade has seen an overall decline in incarceration rates nationwide that require a careful review of the new dynamics and complexities facing the justice system. Using a reliable data-driven approach, CCJ’s report on trends in incarceration and correctional supervision by race and gender makes a crucial contribution to the national discussion regarding incarceration, probation, and parole. The report documents a general decline in racial and gender disparities within the criminal justice system that is both hopeful and reflects the progress made locally and nationally.

Although this trend is promising, enduring change requires the continued study of the complex circumstances that affect the ongoing disparities within the system. To that end, CCJ’s efforts in fostering a fair and effective criminal justice system is essential. I look forward to participating in and seeking CCJ’s continued work in this important area.