Book Review: From retribution to public safety: Disruptive innovation of American criminal justice

Date01 December 2020
Published date01 December 2020
AuthorLee Ayers
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Book Reviews
Kelly, W. R., Pitman, R., & Streusand, W. (2017). From retribution to public safety: Disruptive innovation of American
criminal justice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 225 pp. $38.00 (hardback), ISBN 978-1-4422-7388-7; eBook
$36.00, ISBN 978-1-4422-7389-4.
Reviewed by: Lee Ayers, Southern Oregon University, Ashland, OR, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818763733
When it comes to incarceration, what do American’s want for their high-dollar investment? If the
past 50 years are any indication, the answer is punishment—at any price. The evidence is defined in
policy and practice. Tough on crime, truth in sentencing, and mandatory minimums policies have set
precedence for the current climate, but when will the public realize that punishment is not the
solution? Lock’em up and throw away the key approaches are not affordable, and they are not
working. The recidivism rates hovering at 65%corroborate this (p. 9). In the land of the free,
2.3 million individuals are confined within the complexity of the state and federal, adult and
juvenile, facilities (p. 10). Translated into 700 per 100,000, the United States leads as the highest
incarcerator. So what will it take to change the mind-set, rebrand, and cohesively message the
significant seismic shift needed? Authors Kelly, Pitman, and Streusand outline four major threats
to recidivism reduction: intellectual deficiencies, drug addiction, neurodevelopmental problems,
and mental illness. A unique argument for rethinking how the criminal justice system views the
juvenile developing brain is made, and serious attention is given to the behavioral health issues
facing the United States today. Breaking down the barriers and redefining the blurs, the authors
examine how we got here. What needs to change for things to move forward, and how can the
perception of punishment as the solution be broken?
Through the lens of the “Great American Punishment Experiment,” public policy is directly
responsible for the crisis. Crime control policy, of the 1960s and 1970s, supported by high crime
rates fueled public fears as the United States witnessed violent mass protest, property destruction,
and clashes between the police and citizens. As administration after administration enforced the
“more punishment” message, tough on crime stances were supported and no politician wanted to be
viewed as soft on crime. Add into this bundle the additional blurring of the lines between crime and
terrorism after 9/11. The compounding problem continues to fuel the punishment solution as the
dominate school of thought.
Pressure to make the punishment fit the crime shifted the discretion of the judge’s role, demon-
strated by the enforcement of mandatory minimums, and three-strike la ws. Determinate versus
indeterminate sentencing became the norm. Throw into this mix the expanded view of incarceration
for drug crimes. During the Nixon administration, drugs became “public enemy number one” and
over 1 trillion dollars were spent attempting to control the supply chain (p. 15). Criminalizing the
drug problem versus viewing it as a core public health issue onc e again clouded the approach
considered for solutions. Drug crimes are one of the greatest contributors to the criminal offender
cycling in and out of the system. Headlines have included The Atlantic noting, “America’s Largest
Mental Hospital is a Jail,” and National Public Radio questioning, “Why Are the Three Largest
Criminal Justice Review
2020, Vol. 45(4) 502-509
ª2018 Georgia State University
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