The Crisis in America’s Criminal Courts: Improving Criminal Justice Outcomes by Transforming Decision-Making

Rowman & Littlefield. Aug. 2021. 263p. ISBN 9781538142165. $40. LAW
Few would argue that the U.S. criminal justice system is fit for purpose. In 2016, it employed more than 2.1 million people and cost $240 billion, yet recidivism rates remain stubbornly high. Kelly (sociology, Univ. of Texas at Austin; The Future of Crime and Punishment) argues that the tough-on-crime policies advocated by many states and district attorneys must be replaced with smart-on-crime, evidence-based reforms. He believes that prosecutorial discretion lies at the heart of reform and that by transforming decision making, prosecutors could effect change; he writes that pretrial and courtroom decisions are particularly ripe for reform. As more progressive prosecutors are elected, Kelly sees hope for meaningful change that focuses less on retributive justice and more on behavioral change models that acknowledge social circumstances associated with crime. He stresses that a key step is identifying criminality and developing assessment and intervention plans, rather than relying on case processing and intuitive decision making, which often allow judges to fall prey to their own biases, including racial bias.
VERDICT Replete with statistics and references, this engaging, compelling book will appeal to both lay and professional readers.
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