"Moving Past the Standard Story: Rethinking the Causes of Mass Incarceration."
Abstract: "Reducing America's exceptional reliance on incarceration is one of the few issues of genuine bipartisan cooperation these days. Yet despite years of work, change has been slow and halting. One critical reason is that the story we tell about what has driven prison growth often emphasizes causes that matter less at the expense of those that matter more. We talk about the impact of long sentences--which certainly matter--but end up overlooking the even more important role of prosecutorial charging behavior in the process. We emphasize the need to stop sending people to prison for drugs, but as a result fail to talk about changing how we punish those convicted of violence--even though only 15% of the prison population is serving time for drugs, compared to over 50% for violence. And reformers frequently direct their attention on private prisons, and thus don't focus on the fact that public institutions hold over 90% of all inmates, and that (public) correctional officer unions and legislators with public prisons in their districts play far bigger roles than the private prison firms in pushing back against reform efforts. Even the modest reductions in prison populations since 2010 are something to celebrate, but more substantive cuts will require us to start asking tougher questions about the sorts of changes we need to demand."
John Pfaff is a Professor of Law at Fordham University where he teaches criminal law, sentencing law, and law and economics. He has a J.D. and Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Chicago. Before coming to Fordham, he was the John M. Olin Fellow at the Northwestern University School of Law and clerked for Judge Stephen F. Williams on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Professor Pfaff's research focuses primarily on empirical matters related to criminal justice, especially criminal sentencing. A large focus of his research has been trying to understand the causes of the unprecedented 40 year boom in US incarceration rates. His recent work has illuminated the previously-underappreciated role that prosecutorial discretion has played in driving up prison populations. A second emphasis of his work considers the best ways to incorporate evidence based practices into the judicial review of scientific and empirical evidence. He is the author of the book Locked in: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform(2017) and numerous other publications. His recent work has illuminated the previously-underappreciated role that prosecutorial discretion has played in driving up prison populations. The second looks at how to incorporate evidence based practices into the judicial review of scientific and empirical evidence. For his work on this issue Professor Pfaff received a two-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation and the University of Chicago's Arete Initiative for the study of wisdom.
Doors open at 3:30 pm with cocktail hour, lecture begins at 4:00 pm with a reception to follow.
Parking is available at the Gateway Garage, 75 E. 11th Avenue.