November 27, 2019

Task Force on Overcriminalization

America’s incarceration rates are the highest in the world. Some states have taken a fresh look, using alternatives that reduce crime while also reducing incarceration rates and costs.

The Section of Litigation Overcriminalization Task Force works to educate members on issues facing America's prison and criminal justice system. From articles on public policy to reform efforts to social impact, the task force provides many resources to learn and discuss this urgent problem.


  • Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (2010)
  • Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration on America (2011)
  • William J. Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (2011)
  • Becky Pettit, Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress (2012)
  • Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, "Incarceration & Social Inequality," Daedalus (Summer 2010)
  • Nicola Lacey, "American Imprisonment in Comparative Perspective," Daedalus (Summer 2010)
  • The Pew Center on the States, "Prison Count 2010: State Population Declines for the First Time in 38 Years" (Revised April 2010)
  • ABA, No. 111B (adopted August 3-4, 2009)
  • Ashbel T. Wall II, "Rhode Island Halts Growth in the Inmate Population While Increasing Public Safety, 72 Corrections Today 40" (February 2010)
  • John Hagan and Holly Foster, “Children of the American Prison Generation: Student and School Spillover Effects of Incarcerating Mothers,”  Law & Society Review, Volume 46, Number 1 (2012).

  U.S. Prison Count Continues to Drop - More Than Half of States Cut Imprisonment Rates from 2006 to 2011

After nearly four decades of explosive growth, the U.S. prison population declined for two years in a row, according to the Justice Department.[1] Inmate counts fell in about half the states in each year from 2009-10 and 2010-11. [2]

Over the past five years, the imprisonment rate fell in 29 states. California, which was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce its prison population, led the way with a 17 percent drop. Nine other states reduced their imprisonment rates between 2006 and 2011 by double digits: Hawaii (16 percent), Massachusetts (15 percent), Michigan (15 percent), New Jersey (14 percent), Alaska (13 percent), New York (13 percent), Connecticut (11 percent), Delaware (10 percent), and South Carolina (10 percent).

Brennan Center Submits Comments on the U.S. Sentencing Commission's Policy Priorities
The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently called for comments on its proposed policy priorities for the upcoming year. The Brennan Center filed comments to assist the Commission with its strategic priorities.

Sentencing Project Report
Marc Mauer Scholars are beginning to analyze the relative contributions of changes in crime rates, criminal justice policies, economics, and demographics to the slowing growth rate of the prison system, but one area that has gone largely unexplored is the impact of such changes on racial disparities in imprisonment. As is well known black/white disparities in the use of incarceration have been profound for quite some time. Since the 1980s a series of analyses have documented these trends at the national level as well as examining variation in disparity among the states.

Mass Incarceration: Finding Our Way Back to Normal
Ronald Marmer
The reach of the criminal justice system extends even farther. For every person in prison, America has two more people on parole, probation, or some related form of control.

Overcriminalization and Excessive Punishment: Uncoupling Pipelines to Prison
Hope MetcalfSia Sanneh There are seven million people behind bars or subject to some kind of control that can land them behind bars. That is larger than the combined populations of Los Angeles and Chicago.

BOXED IN: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York’s Prisons
Scarlet Kim, Taylor Pendergrass and Helen Zelon New York employs an unusual brand of “solitary confinement.” Roughly half of the 4,500 prisoners in solitary confinement spend 23 hours a day locked down alone in an isolation cell. The other half are locked down in an isolation cell with another prisoner—a practice known as “double-celling,” which forces two strangers into intimate, constant proximity.

 Growing Pains
By Rhonda McMillion
In 1980, federal prisons housed 24,000 people at an annual cost of $333 million. But the number of inmates in federal prison facilities now has ballooned more than 800 percent to 217,000, at a cost of $6 billion per year.

Changing Racial Dynamics of Women’s Incarceration 

Marc Mauer
In the first decade of the 21st century the United States began to experience a shift in the 30-year buildup to a world-record prison system. Although the decade ended with an increased number of people in prison, the rate of growth overall was considerably below that of previous decades, and since 2008 the overall number of people in state prisons has declined slightly each year.