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Liman Program Releases Report from Workshop Examining High Rates of Incarceration in the United States

“As a nation we have become addicted to incarceration. We have convinced ourselves that the best way to control any kind of behavior is to criminalize it. And if that doesn’t work, we will increase the penalties, and then increase them again.” -Ronald L. Marmer, chair of the ABA Section of Litigation

The Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School has published “Uncoupling Pipelines to Prison,” a report from a December 2011 workshop examining the high rates of incarceration in the United States. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Liman Program, the American Bar Association Section of Litigation, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It gathered together a group of approximately forty officials, scholars, and practitioners to discuss the phenomenon commonly referred to as “mass incarceration.”

The conversation focused on three areas, all of which are fueling rising prison populations: (1) overcriminalization through the erosion of intentionality; (2) criminalizing adolescent misbehavior in schools and on the streets; and (3) excessive punishment and control of those convicted of criminal behavior. Participants represented an array of views and included officials from the three branches of state and federal government, criminologists, legal scholars, practitioners, and experts in education, public policy, sociology, and comparative law. Discussions occurred over the course of a day and a half, and materials circulated beforehand enabled participants to develop a shared literature in advance of the sessions.

The report provides several essays by the organizers and a summary of the discussion, including key points of consensus and divergence. Read the report, “Overcriminalization and Excessive Punishment: Uncoupling Pipelines to Prison.”