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Press Release

New Essay Collection from Columbia University Press Offers Latest and Best Thinking on Criminal Justice, and What Must Be Done 

Edited by the Brennan Center’s Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Excessive Punishment is a reality check on crime and justice in 2024

April 2, 2024
Contact: Derek Rosenfeld, Media Contact,, 646-292-8381

Anti-mass incarceration efforts have succeeded in bringing reform without sacrificing public safety, but an overreliance on punitive responses have limited their impact, especially for people of color

Contributors include Paul Butler, Alexes Harris, Michael Mendoza, Nkechi Taifa, Bruce Western

Today Columbia University Press published Excessive Punishment: How the Justice System Creates Mass Incarceration. Lauren-Brooke Eisen, director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, solicited 38 essays from criminal justice scholars, practitioners, and advocates, as well as former law enforcement and people who have experienced incarceration. 

“The noise and disinformation about crime is hitting its usual election-year peak. This book cuts through all that,” says Eisen. “It shows that public safety, justice, and fairness are compatible goals that must be achieved together if they are to be achieved at all. The current dominant method— the blend of mass incarceration and perpetual punishment – has failed on all three counts: public safety, justice, and fairness.”

The contributors to the collection include Paul Butler, Jennifer Chacón, Khalil Cumberbatch, Alexes Harris, Michael Mendoza, Nkechi Taifa, Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western, and many others (complete list below). They delve into the unfinished work of the criminal justice reform movement. Why does so much of the criminal justice system remain locked on overincarceration? How do factors like structural racism and economic incentives work against commonsense reforms?
A sampling:

  • Race, Mass Incarceration, and the Disastrous War on Drugs” by Nkechi Taifa, civil rights attorney
  • Monetary Sanctions as a Pound of Flesh” by Alexes Harris, University of Washington
  • Providing Hope and Freedom to Overpunished People: Where Both Seem Impossible to Achieve” by David Singleton, University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law
  • Addressing Violent Crime More Effectively” by David Alan Sklansky, Stanford Law School
  • The Inhumanity of Solitary Confinement” by Christopher Blackwell, who is incarcerated at the Washington Corrections Center in Washington state

The book has earned advance praise for its depth, scope, and solutions from U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner (ret.), Judith Resnik (Yale), Emily Bazelon (The New York Times Magazine), James Cadogan (National Basketball Social Justice Coalition), and more. (Their comments are below.) 

On Wednesday, April 3, at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, the Brennan Center along with the Commonwealth Club of California and The Last Mile will host a panel at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco (live-streamed as well) to discuss the themes and questions raised by Excessive Punishment. Eisen will be joined by fellow contributor Michael Mendoza, along with retired Superior Court of Northern California Judge LaDoris Cordell, Kevin McCracken of The Last Mile, and Ken Oliver of the Checkr Foundation. To RSVP for an in-person spot or for the live stream, please email John Zipperer at the Commonwealth Club. 

On Wednesday, April 17, at 3 p.m. ET, the Brennan Center will also host a live, virtual event. Eisen will moderate a conversation with fellow contributors Jeremy Travis of the Columbia Justice Lab , Khalil Cumberbatch of the Council on Criminal Justice, and Nkechi Taifa, a civil rights attorney. RSVP here. Excessive Punishment will be the subject of other upcoming events. Please email Derek Rosenfeld to find out more.

In addition to leading the criminal justice work at the Brennan Center, Eisen is a former prosecutor and the author of Inside Private Prisons (Columbia, 2017).

Advance Praise for Excessive Punishment

“This book weaves a path toward reform of the fragmented system of criminal punishment in the United States, which produces too many harms and too little safety for anyone. Essays brilliantly distill the histories of control and racism, and they map how to reorient interactions on streets, in prisons, and after release to recognize the political voice and social worth of all members of the country.” – Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law, Yale Law School

“This book breaks through the tropes about what it takes for our criminal legal system to ensure public safety; it smashes the generalizations that have fueled our failed experiment in mass incarceration for the past several decades. And it does so with experts of all kinds—scholars, activists, practitioners—who chronicle how our system went off the rails and, more important, how to fix it.” – U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner (ret.)

“This book brings together an amazing array of contributors to outline the biggest problems with American conceptions and implementation of punishment—and also to propose solutions.” – Emily Bazelon, author of Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration and staff writer, The New York Times Magazine

“In 2020, millions of Americans came together in an unprecedented call for a more just society. This collection of essays by some of the country’s foremost thinkers continues that work—helping us understand the history of our carceral system and offering a blueprint for how we can create safe, healthy, and thriving communities from coast to coast.” – James Cadogan, executive director, National Basketball Social Justice Coalition

“As someone who endured fourteen years within the confines of federal prison, I have witnessed the stark and often brutal realities of our criminal justice system. Excessive Punishment is a beacon of insight onto the cycle of mass incarceration that grips our nation.” – Louis L. Reed, activist and film producer

Contributors to Excessive Punishment

Synøve N. Andersen, University of Oslo

Cameron Kimble, Benenson Strategy Group

Lenore Anderson, Alliance for Safety and Justice

Karol Mason, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Monica Bell, Yale Law School

Peggy McGarry, Center for Effective Public Policy

Christopher Blackwell, Look 2 Justice

Michael Mendoza, Anti-Recidivism Coalition

Erica Bond, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Carlton Miller, Arnold Ventures

Paul Butler, Georgetown Law

Alia Nahra, Columbia University

Jennifer M. Chacón, Stanford Law School

Jason Pye, Due Process Institute

Steven L. Chanenson, Villanova Law

Heather Rice-Minus, Prison Fellowship

Ed Chung, Vera Institute of Justice

Martín Sabelli, NACDL

Andrew Cohen, The Marshall Project

Alison Siegler, University of Chicago Law School

Khalil Cumberbatch, Council on Criminal Justice

Jonathan Simon, Berkeley Law

Michele Deitch, University of Texas

David Singleton, UDC Law

Emile DeWeaver, Community Organizer

David Sklansky, Stanford University

Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Brennan Center for Justice

Blake Strode, ArchCity Defenders

Kathy Foer-Morse, New Jersey reentry nonprofit

Hernandez Stroud, Brennan Center for Justice

Adam Gelb, Council on Criminal Justice

Ram Subramanian, Brennan Center for Justice

Morgan Godvin, JSTOR Daily

Nkechi Taifa, The Taifa Group, LLC

Ames Grawert, Brennan Center for Justice

Kim Taylor-Thompson, NYU Law

Alexes Harris, University of Washington

Rahsaan “New York” Thomas, Ear Hustle

Shon Hopwood, Georgetown Law

Jeremy Travis, Columbia Justice Lab

Jordan M. Hyatt, Drexel University

Homer Venters, NYU

Theodore R. Johnson, New America

Bruce Western, Columbia University

Asia Johnson, Writer, Filmmaker, Advocate