The criminal justice system is one of the pillars of democracy. In order for that system to function effectively, citizens must be confident that each step of the process is consistent with the Constitution’s promise of equality. Criminal laws in the United States, while intended to be neutral, are enforced in extensively prejudiced ways. Furthermore, the principal aims of criminal law–deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, and rehabilitation–are not effectively pursued under our traditional regime.
Justice reform has only recently started gaining momentum and still lacks clarity. What began as purely intellectual interest established what is now a first-of-its-kind conference at Penn State Law, one which we hope will continue each year until it is no longer needed. The Justice Reform Conference, an entirely student-initiated and organized effort, aims to bring together the leaders advancing this field and foster progress in justice reform by disseminating knowledge of contemporary legal theories, research findings, evidence-based methods, and government policy. The law is oftentimes quite slow in catching up to advances in science and philosophy, and so only through intense and sustained public discourse will true progress be achieved. Students especially, as the future of the social and legal system, should be exposed to the most pressing issues facing our criminal justice system.
The 2016 Conference focused primarily on the discussion of mass incarceration, racial profiling, juvenile incarceration, alternative sentencing, and rehabilitation. This year, our diverse and accomplished speakers will discuss the many facets of the so-called “prison industrial complex”, its disproportionate impact on people of color and those with severe mental illnesses, the challenges of life after prison, and the efforts (or lack thereof) made by policymakers to reform our current system of incarceration into one that is more humane, effective, and economically sustainable.