Skip Navigation
  • Home
  • series
  • Series: Punitive Excess

America’s criminal legal system is unduly harsh. Experts explain how we got here and solutions that will benefit everyone.

Amer­ica can’t shrink its reli­ance on mass incar­cer­a­tion until we confront our approach to punish­ment. These essays by renowned experts in a vari­ety of fields focus on our deep-rooted impulse to punish people in ways that are far beyond what could be considered propor­tion­ate. Together, they illus­trate how neces­sary it is to rein in the punit­ive excess of the crim­inal legal system, which is inex­or­ably entwined with the legacy of slavery. They also high­light how we have margin­al­ized poor communit­ies and people of color through crim­in­al­iz­a­tion and punish­ment.

Address­ing a range of issues — from poli­cing to prosec­u­tion to incar­cer­a­tion to life after prison — the writers high­light how our nation has prior­it­ized excess punish­ment over more support­ive and less trau­matic ways of deal­ing with social harm. The essays explore whether, when, and how we could have made differ­ent decisions that would have changed the way these systems of punish­ment and social control evolved.

Look­ing ahead, they also ask how we can learn from this failed exper­i­ment with mass incar­cer­a­tion and prior­it­ize human dignity over human misery.

We hope this series will spur increased discus­sion on these vital topics. 

L.B. Eisen
Director, Bren­nan Center Justice Program

Image: The Wash­ing­ton Post/Robert Daem­m­rich/Third Eye Co/Getty