By Richard Althouse, Ph.D.



The theme of this year’s MHCC "Upsetting the status quo…” begs a question related to our criminal justice system: "Which ones?” Why is this an important question? Because our criminal justice system has many status quos that critics have been attempting to change for the past 2-3 decades without much success, leaving others to struggle and cope with the consequences. However, struggling with the consequences is not the same as changing the underlying system that fosters them. In fact, one could argue that improving the consequences only serves to maintain the status quo rather than change it.


The most enduring status quo is philosophical: "Get tough on crime” (GTOC). While critics have argued it would be better to be smart on crime, the philosophy compelling the GTOC approach to managing crime has endured, and despite declining crime rates for about two decades, has driven America to have the highest incarceration and recidivism rates in the world at huge taxpayer and social expense. As a byproduct of the GTOC, legislation has resulted in longer sentences, fueled the war on drugs and, as some have argued, continued the war on minorities and the mentally ill. Despite the current annual expenditure for corrections of approximately $82 billion,overcrowded prisons, providing effective mental health and drug abuse treatment and facilitating successful reentry for the approximately 650,000 offenders now released each year remain enduring challenges for both offenders and the communities to which they return for decades.


At least for a decade if not longer, criminal justice experts have concluded the GTOC approach to crime management has not clearly improved public safety and in some respects has put it at greater risk. The war on drugs was lost years ago and it’s continued escalation has resulted in many more deaths from the war than from the drugs we’re attempting to manage. Yet both remain the status quo with no clear end in sight. So exactly which status quo(s) do we want to upset?


So as we consider the topics at this year’s conference, we might wonder which efforts actually contribute to upsetting the status quo, and which ones simply serve to keep it going!


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