Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2011, $750,000)
Over the past three decades, the population of U.S. prisons and jails has increased substantially. Current U.S. incarceration rates are unusually high relative not only to other countries, but to historical figures for the United States itself. The increase has disproportionately affected certain populations in society, particularly young minority men. Given the speed and magnitude of these changes, it is important to understand their causes and consequences, costs and benefits; as well as to determine whether there are policy alternatives to incarceration that would better serve the goal of public safety at a lower cost.
This project will address these issues by forming a panel of 15 experts who will study the extant scientific evidence regarding the use of incarceration in the U.S. and will propose a research agenda on the causes and uses of incarceration, as well as potential practice and policy alternatives for the future. The study will explore the causes of the dramatic increase - particularly among minorities - in incarceration rates since the 1970s, examine the costs and benefits of the nation's current sentencing and incarceration policies, and investigate whether there is empirical evidence that alternative sanctions might achieve similar public safety benefits at lower financial and social costs. The 15 panel members will be drawn from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, but will all have been directly involved in, or have special knowledge of, the topic under consideration.