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The Language of Criminal Justice Reform: Changing Our Approach to Improve Outcomes

Sometimes strategic change in public policy requires a change in our traditional vocabulary – or at least a clearer understanding of the terms used to discuss the issue. This is certainly the case with criminal justice reform initiatives. There is a large bipartisan base advocating for significant reform in our criminal justice system. One positive aspect of the current reform movement is that good ideas for improving criminal justice do not necessarily decry the dysfunction of the existing system. Encouraging reforms being sought include: sentencing reform; re-entry programs for inmates returning to their communities following incarceration; diversion programs; and special courts for veterans and defendants who are mentally ill. These are all valuable changes to a system that has become more focused on maintaining existing processes and the associated revenue that is generated, than ensuring individual justice is carried out.

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