Beyond One-Liners: A Guide to the Democratic Debate on Criminal Justice


Professor John Pfaff is cited in an article published by The Marshall Project that provides a closer look at the debate on criminal justice within the context of the July Democratic primary debates in Detroit.

For one, prison populations started to rise in 1973 and reached record highs in the 1980s, before the law ever came into being.

“This was a national phenomenon, largely taking place at the state level, where more than 85 percent of prisoners are housed,” wrote Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, in a commentary for The Marshall Project.

State legislators were already implementing laws that sent people to prison for decades. Here is where the crime bill did have an effect: The law provided states with funding to build new prisons. It also incentivized states to pass truth-in-sentencing laws, which required prisoners to serve the majority of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole.

State and local prosecutors, too, bear much of the blame of the incarceration explosion of the past four decades, as Fordham law professor John Pfaff has argued. And they were elected on tough-on-crime platforms—endorsed by American voters.

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