A recent National Academy of Sciences Report entitled, “The growth of incarceration in the United States: Exploring causes and consequences,” examined the drivers of the fourfold increase in incarceration rates in the United States and provided a firm recommendation for significant reduction in incarceration rates (Travis, Western, & Redburn, 2014). Policy makers representing the entire political spectrum are now publicly airing their views on the need for reform. Although public sentiment is generally favorably disposed toward reform in the abstract, when confronted with specific examples of crime, they tend to favor more punitive, retributive responses to crime. Retributive justifications for punishment that are deeply ingrained in our culture and our legal system, as well as our biological and psychological make-up, are a major impediment to constructive reform efforts. However, recent advances in research across neurobiological, psychological, and social levels of analysis suggest that following our retributive impulses to guide legal decision making and criminal justice policy is not only costly and ineffective in reducing crime, but unjust and increasingly difficult to justify morally. This article will draw on a body of research anchored in social ecological models of human behavior to argue for more forward-looking, consequentialist responses to crime that aim at the individual prevention of criminal behavior in the least restrictive and most cost-effective manner at both the front and back ends of our criminal justice system.

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