The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is the peak scientific organization in the United States. NASEM periodically convenes consensus panels to prepare reports that summarize the scientific consensus in a field, and make policy recommendations. The NASEM panel on Reducing Racial Inequality in the Criminal Justice System met through 2021 and 2022 to study trends in racial disparity in crime and criminal justice involvement. The committee — consisting of a diverse group of scholars and practitioners — documented large disparities in homicide and other serious violence, along with disparities in police contact, police use of force, and incarceration. Successful reductions in racial inequality have involved reducing the overall scale of criminal justice contact. Reducing racial inequality in community contexts — in poverty, residential segregation, and neighborhood conditions — also offers an important strategy for reducing inequality in policing and imprisonment. Policies timed to key life course transitions — early child and adolescent programs — are also promising areas for policy change. These findings and recommendations have been reported to the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice, and to a variety of other stake holders.
Bruce Western is the Bryce Professor of Sociology and Social Justice and Director of the Justice Lab at Columbia University. He studies poverty and socioeconomic inequality with a focus on the U.S. criminal justice system. Current projects include a randomized experiment assessing the effects of criminal justice fines and fees on misdemeanor defendants in Oklahoma City, and a field study of solitary confinement in Pennsylvania state prisons. Western is also the Principal Investigator of the Square One Project that aims to re-imagine the public policy response to violence under conditions of poverty and racial inequality. He is the author of Punishment and Inequality in America (2007) and Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison (2018). He co-chaired NASEM consensus panel studies of COVID-19 in US prisons, and reducing racial inequality in the criminal justice system. Western is an elected member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.