This brief is part of Election 2016 and America’s Future— an institution-wide initiative in which Brookings scholars have identified the biggest issues facing the country this election season and are providing individual ideas for how to address them.
"Americans across partisan, ideological, and racial lines are rethinking the country’s criminal justice system. This is entirely appropriate—and necessary. And yet, conversations, debates, and policy prescriptions around this issue often are not rooted in sound data. All too often, convoluted and even contradictory facts are cited, undermining efforts to improve a system that is in many ways broken. In this brief, we seek to provide citizens and policymakers—including the next president—with a framework for assessing the opportunities and challenges of criminal justice reform by situating decades-long trends in crime and punishment in the appropriate historical and comparative contexts. We have compiled, and report here, the best substantiated data on five critical elements of the criminal justice system: nationwide crime rates; prison population and buildup; the costs of incarceration; and individuals killed by police."