The Crisis in America's Criminal Courts

The Crisis in America's Criminal Courts

Improving Criminal Justice Outcomes by Transforming Decision-Making

William R. Kelly


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The Crisis in the American Criminal Courts highlights a variety of problems that judges, prosecutors, and public defenders face within a criminal justice system that is ineffective, unfair, and extraordinarily expensive. While many argue, and I agree, that crushing caseloads and court dockets certainly qualify as a crisis, I suggest there is a much greater crisis in the courts that results in profound downstream effects on criminal justice performance and outcomes. It sounds simple, but the greatest risk faced by the justice system is the lack of time, expertise, and resources for effective decision-making. In this book, I propose a variety of evidence-based reforms that, as a start, provide the key decision-makers with professional clinical experts to accurately assess and advise regarding mitigating the circumstances that bring individuals into the courts.

We must rebalance. We need incarceration for those who are too dangerous or violent or who are habitual offenders. For most of the rest, we need to manage risk, but very importantly, it is time to get serious about behavioral change.

We need to change the culture of the courthouse and reorient how we think about crime and punishment.


William R. Kelly:

William R. Kelly is professor in the Department of Sociology and director of the Center for Criminology and Criminal Justice Research at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas. He is the author of several books and articles on criminal justice, law, and policy, including Confronting Underground Justice: Reinventing Plea Bargaining for Effective Criminal Justice Reform (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), From Retribution to Public Safety (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), The Future of Crime and Punishment (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), Criminal Justice at the Crossroads (2015), and Justice Under Pressure (1993).