“Most people that commit crimes are not evil”: An Interview with Shon Hopwood

By Amanda Knox with Christopher Robinson

On October 28, 1998, 23-year-old Shon Hopwood pleaded guilty to robbing numerous banks in Nebraska and was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison. While serving his sentence, Hopwood ― who had no formal legal training ― became a jailhouse lawyer, and represented many of his fellow inmates in their appeals. Upon his release from prison in 2009, Hopwood went to law school at the University of Washington and Georgetown University.

Hopwood is now an attorney, associate professor of law at Georgetown University, and a criminal justice reform advocate. He helped develop the First Step Act, the first meaningful progressive reform to the federal criminal justice system to pass in decades, which was signed into law by President Trump in December 2018.

Amanda Knox

How long has it been since our federal criminal justice system has been moving in a more punitive and carceral direction?

Shon Hopwood

I’d say certainly since the 1970s, when they started attaching higher and higher penalties for federal drug crimes. But when it really ramped up was the mid ‘80s. Couple big bills started attaching, for the first time, mandatory minimum punishments to federal drug offenses. At the time, the federal prison population was around 40,000 people, and four or five years ago, it was 200,000 people. And so you had an explosion of both a bunch of new federal crimes and increasingly attaching more punitive punishments to those federal crimes that require long terms of imprisonment. And what you saw was a spike in the federal prison system’s population.

Amanda Knox 

So what instigated this shift towards mass incarceration?

Shon Hopwood

War on drugs and crime, especially in inner cities. And, you know, I’m not certain that some of the responses were not legitimate. The response of the federal government certainly helped to bring crime down. Although most experts believe that the number of people we incarcerate did not have nearly as big a role in reducing crime in the ‘90s as other factors did, particularly the economy and the number of law enforcement officials who are on the ground investigating crimes, and a bunch of other various factors led to the great crime decline.

Amanda Knox 

What are some examples of federal laws that passed that advanced that punitive carceral policy?

Shon Hopwood  

1984, the federal government changed from a system that allowed judges to largely decide the sentences within a wide range. So a judge may have a range of zero to 20 years, and it was up to the judge solely to decide what type of sentence the defendant received within that range. And in 1984, they got rid of that model and moved to a sentencing guidelines model. Incarceration and the punitiveness of sentences almost doubled across the board. And then you move into the 1990s. And there, what we saw politically was two parties who were each trying to one-up each other to make the system more punitive. President Clinton was a part of that. He’s the one that signed the 1994 crime bill. That was one of the most awful pieces of legislation. What we saw was both Democrats and Republicans, because being tough on crime won elections, and it was a one way ratchet that increased sentences across the board.

Amanda Knox

What were some of the intended and unintended consequences of these policies?

Shon Hopwood 

The intention was to bring crime down. The problem is, once crime actually got down in the early 2000s, we never reconsidered what harm locking that many people up would do to the communities that were most affected. I’ll give you just one example. When I first went to federal prison, it was 1998. And when I got to the federal prison, there were a row of cells that the guys in those cells, they called themselves neighbors. As in, they lived right next to each other in the prison, but they had also been neighbors in the streets. They were all African American men who had been incarcerated for a conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine in their neighborhood and they all received 20-year mandatory minimums. And when I got there, they were about halfway through their sentence. And 10 years later, when I’m about to be released, they’re about to be released, and you would have thought that this would have been a very joyful occasion, the fact that they were all getting ready to go home and back to their community. But it wasn’t, because those last couple of years, a bunch of their sons came into the federal prison system. And it’s not a surprise. You take all the fathers out of a neighborhood, the children are much more likely to have behavioral issues, mental health issues, not do well in school, and ultimately a much higher risk of them committing crimes and going to federal prison themselves. And so that’s what I saw, was intergenerational cycles of incarceration. And no one really, even to this day, has sat and thought about that collateral damage and what mass incarceration has done, incarcerating large numbers of particularly African American men and pulling them out of those communities.

Amanda Knox  

I’ve seen that in your scholarly articles you describe how the social costs of our current criminal justice system are unsustainable, and that’s largely based on what you’ve seen from personal experience. Before you experienced the criminal justice system, what was your relationship to it?

Shon Hopwood 

I was like most people. White, middle class, in rural Nebraska. And, you know, my family and I thought, what I see from a lot of families that are similarly situated, is, “You must really have to try to go to prison, and prisons are where we send the worst of the worst, and prison must be the place where we send evil people, people that are unredeemable.” And then, when I got to prison, that’s not what I saw. I didn’t see evil people. I just saw people that, for whatever reason, made some bad choices. Some of them didn’t have a lot of opportunities to begin with. But what I saw were a group of men that, if they had been encouraged, and if they had some resources, and if they had some mental health treatment, and drug and alcohol addiction treatment, they could be very successful on the outside, they can be contributing, law abiding members of society, but that’s not what they were receiving. That’s not what they received prior to going to prison, and it certainly wasn’t what they were receiving inside federal prison.

Amanda Knox  

It sounds like you came into the prison system from very different circumstances. Were you able to relate? Did you develop meaningful relationships?

Shon Hopwood

Yes, in two ways. One was, I enjoyed playing basketball. But of course, when I got to the prison, white guys didn’t play basketball and they were encouraged not to. I was rebellious before prison, so I didn’t listen to people and I played basketball and I got a lot of respect from people that did not look like me in the federal prison system. And then the other place where I made lots of friends and connected with people of all races and classes was in the law library. We were all studying and looking for ways to get out from under these incredibly punitive sentences that just didn’t make sense to us. But Congress, and particularly President Clinton, had signed some bills that made it very difficult for us to challenge those sentences and convictions in federal court, and limited the ability for people in prison to do that. There weren’t many successes. We were filing these petitions without lawyers, and the legal system just does not respect filings by what are considered pro se litigants, people representing themselves, and so even when we felt we had meritorious issues, a lot of times those were still denied.

Amanda Knox 

You’re painting a tragic picture. I’m envisioning you and a couple other guys just sitting in the same room every day poring over books and just finding roadblock after roadblock after roadblock. How did that impact you and your friends psychologically?

Shon Hopwood 

I’ll tell you one part that impacted me to this day. A lot of the issues I saw when I was working on people’s legal cases in prison were the fact that they were not represented properly by the defense lawyer. A majority of the cases I won in federal prison involve what’s called an ineffective assistance of counsel, which means defense counsel was performing so badly, that they don’t even count as counsel under the Sixth Amendment. I saw lawyers that routinely made mistakes that cost their clients sometimes decades more in prison. And it made me think badly of lawyers. And it’s something to this day that I still, even though I’m a lawyer and I think our profession is great, I still have an issue with lawyers who are not diligent, particularly those that are representing indigent criminal defendants. To this day, that really bothers me.

Amanda Knox  

How are these lawyers falling short?

Shon Hopwood 

The thing with criminal defense is, unlike someone that practices contract law and represents corporations where you have a repeat client, when you’re a criminal defense attorney, your clients are all one-offs. You either are going to get them acquitted, in which case you hope they don’t commit or are ever charged with a crime again and don’t represent them again, or they’re going to get convicted and sentenced and they’re going to prison, in which case you’re very unlikely to represent that person again. And so there’s no real incentive for defense lawyers to do the right things and to put in the time that’s necessary. Listen, the federal system is geared towards prosecutors. All the rules favor prosecutors, but that doesn’t mean you don’t try your hardest to the best of your abilities. But what I often saw were defense lawyers that became jaded and didn’t do everything they could for their clients.

Amanda Knox  

You’ve described the criminal justice system as fundamentally unfair and ineffective. Could you elaborate?

Shon Hopwood

It’s ineffective in that almost all of the experts that study the criminal justice system from a macro perspective will say that whatever we gained in the 1990s by locking this many people up in reduction of crime, we have gone so far beyond that, that at this point, the system is perpetuating crime. It causes a lot of damage to certain communities. It’s unfair in that someone can receive a 10 year sentence for a rather minor crime. That’s unfair, because certain people, based on how they look, are targeted by the criminal justice system, and disproportionately sentenced and incarcerated. The laws are not equally applied. If the goal is public safety, there are all sorts of things we can do to increase public safety that don’t involve putting people in cages, and yet we refuse to do it.

Amanda Knox

It seems intuitive to me that the criminal justice system’s primary goal should be public safety. But it doesn’t seem like it’s ultimately geared towards that. What is the criminal justice system currently geared towards?

Shon Hopwood

Punishment and punishment only. It’s a back end solution for people that society has forgotten about. It’s no coincidence that the rise of mass incarceration also happened with great reduction of mental health facilities and mental health treatment. People that don’t get adequate mental health treatment tend to end up in the criminal justice system. And you would think that once someone has acted out and committed a crime, that the goal would then be to give those people the help they need so that doesn’t happen again. But that rarely happens. And in fact, we usually make it worse, despite the fact that 95% of people we send to prison are going to one day come home. We still do things to people in prison that are going to make them come out worse off, not better. I’ll give you just one example. I gave a lecture on criminal justice reform a couple of years ago to a group of junior high school students. And I’ll never forget, when I did the question and answer, what this one seventh grade girl asked me. She said, “Professor Hopwood, if we know that solitary confinement creates mental illness, and for people that have mental illness exacerbates it, and we know that they’re coming home someday, why would we do that?” And I just wanted to grab that girl and give her a hug because she got it in a way that our policymakers do not. If the goal is to rehabilitate people, the great irony of the American criminal justice system is, the longer someone spends in corrections, the less likely they are to be corrected. A lot of our policies are antithetical to public safety, because they’re not designed to get at the root issues of crime. Punishment does not get at the root issues of crime. I’ll give you one other example. I work with, at Georgetown, the Policing For Tomorrow program. And last year I was listening to a police officer speak about an incident. He pulled a man over and he ran the man’s identification, and found out that this man had been charged and arrested 15 times for driving on a suspended license. And he asked the guy, “Why do you keep doing this? Do you like going to jail?” And the man began crying and said, “I can’t get a license.” And the police officer said, “What do you mean you can’t get a license?” And he said, “I cannot read.” He was illiterate, and therefore he could not take the driver’s test and get a license. And so the system, rather than fixing that problem and getting at the root cause of why he was committing the crime, the only thing the system could do was punish him again and again and again after the fact. Our criminal justice system doesn’t get at the root issues for why people are committing crimes. It doesn’t fix any of those issues. It only punishes, which tends to just make things worse.

Amanda Knox

It sounds like our criminal justice system is making the mistake of focusing on the crime and not the person who committed the crime. 

Shon Hopwood 

Yes. That’s the dehumanizing aspect of the system that says, “Once you’ve committed a crime, we no longer view you as human. So any sort of awful thing that we then do to you, you’ve got to coming.” Whether it’s solitary confinement, whether it’s putting your knee on someone’s neck until they die. All of that is, “Once you’ve committed a crime, society deems you as unworthy, and then we can impose whatever horrific punishment we want on you, because you are an evil person,” when most people that commit crimes are not evil. All the social science tells us that crime is mostly a young person’s game, that people age out of crime. Science tells us that character is not static. People change. But you would never know that by our criminal justice practices.

Amanda Knox 

What attempts have been made in the past 40 years to develop and pass criminal justice reform?

Shon Hopwood

The only reforms that happened up until about five years ago are reforms that criminalize more conduct, and increasingly punish those harsher. And then five years ago, some states that made the decision about whether or not they were going to continue to increase the footprint of the criminal justice system, and whether or not they needed to build even more prisons than they already had. And some of those states decided that was not the best way to handle it. What was encouraging was those states decided not only to not build new prisons, but to close some of their prisons. Release people early. And you know what happened? Crime still went down, even when they closed prisons and released people early. This happened in Texas, this happened in Georgia, states that you would not normally think of as leading the charge on criminal justice reform. And so it started in the states and there is no doubt that had the state’s not done that, we wouldn’t have ever gotten any reform on the federal level.

Amanda Knox 

What work was necessary to lay the foundations for the First Step Act?

Shon Hopwood 

The states showed that you can both reduce the number of people in prison, not punish as harshly, and still watch crime go down. I think that was an important point for members of Congress to see. But what laid the ground for the First Step Act was largely criminal justice reform organizations that kept going up to Congress time and time again, and explaining these issues. And explaining that the American public is starting to understand, and that you can vote for criminal justice reform without being worried about being labeled soft on crime and then being voted out of office. I think those two things combined were the reasons why we have the First Step Act today.

Amanda Knox

How was the First Step Act developed?

Shon Hopwood 

It started during the Obama administration. It was a bill that Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican from Iowa, and Senator Dick Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, created with help from other senators. It did not pass during the Obama administration. And then, in 2016, when the administration changed, one of the key things that happened was that Jared Kushner was put in charge of criminal justice reform by the White House. And Jared, like most Americans, don’t think about the millions of people that are cycled through the criminal justice system every year and how unfair it is. Most Americans don’t think about that right up to the point where someone in their family goes through the criminal justice system, and that was certainly the case for him. His dad had been charged federally, and was sentenced to a year in federal prison, and Jared remembered what that was like. And so he was fairly dedicated to working on this issue and getting bipartisan reform passed. There is no question, had he not been in the White House, the First Step Act would not have happened.

Amanda Knox 

What was the political climate leading up to the passage of the First Step Act?

Shon Hopwood 

Not good, because, again, for the last 40 years, the only other time Congress reduced punishments was one bill that reduced one provision in the United States Code in 2010. Outside of that, every other reform that had passed made the system more punitive. The political climate was not good. But it got better once the president signaled his intentions to do this, and once Senator Grassley and Senator Durbin got engaged. Those three people were really the ones leading the charge on this. Very unusual, too, for Senator Grassley. He had been known as someone who would always vote for mandatory minimum punishments, whatever the Department of Justice recommended. If you would have told me 10 years ago that Senator Grassley would have been leading the charge on criminal justice reform, I don’t think I would have believed you. And I’ve asked him and his staff what changed and again, he said seeing what the states had done really impacted what he thought was possible. He really went to bat for this and at one point told the White House, “If you don’t attach sentencing reform to this bill, then there will be no bill.” And if him and Dick Durbin did not stick to that, the First Step Act would not have included any sentencing reform. So, politicians that previously had voted to make the system more punitive, to watch them turn around and now vote to make the system less punitive and more effective, regardless of what actually happened with First Step, symbolically that was very important.

Amanda Knox

In your work on developing the First Step Act, you came into contact with these players.

Shon Hopwood  

Yes, yes. And it was often depressing, because a lot of what I would hear is, “Shon, I know what you’re proposing is the right answer, but politically, that’s just not feasible.” And I heard that time and time again up in the halls of Congress. And there’s nothing worse than knowing that members of Congress think the system’s not working but won’t vote to make it actually better. That was the hill that we had to climb in order to get the First Step Act to pass. 

Amanda Knox 

Why is it now politically feasible to do?

Shon Hopwood 

Because now it’s been done. And it’s backed by a president who no one would ever accuse of being soft on crime. If this president can vote for criminal justice reform, it should give political cover particularly to Republicans to vote for it in the future. And that’s what we’ve seen since the First Step Act. We’ve seen states like Florida, Mississippi, and other states that you would not think do criminal justice reform, have passed criminal justice reform in the wake of the First Step Act. “If Donald J. Trump can vote for criminal justice reform and not be hurt politically for it, well, then I can, too.”

Amanda Knox  

That’s super interesting. One thing that many people are baffled about when it comes to President Trump is how he doesn’t seem to ever be politically punished for anything he does, and oddly, that ended up working out for this reform effort.

Shon Hopwood

I say it this way. If President Trump commuted the sentences of half of the people in federal prison tomorrow, and 100,000 people were released, and some of them who got out committed heinous offenses that would usually lead to a president getting voted out of office, I don’t think it would impact President Trump’s political standing whatsoever. So in some respects, he was the perfect vessel to pass the First Step Act, because he wasn’t risking anything. President Obama signs the First Step Act, any one of those people gets out of federal prison early and goes and commits a heinous offense, and he takes a big hit politically for it. But President Trump doesn’t really have that problem. 

Amanda Knox  

What makes the First Step Act meaningful criminal justice reform? What provisions does it include?

Shon Hopwood 

On the one hand, it’s rather modest reform because it doesn’t come close to decarcerating the federal system in the way that we need. On the other hand, it is the best criminal justice reform bill to come out of Congress in my lifetime. And that kind of gives you a sense of where Congress has been, that this is both modest reform and the best reform bill to come out of Congress in 40 years. One1, it has some sentencing reform provisions. What Congress loves to do when they do pass sentencing reform, they love to make it prospective only, meaning that it only applies for people going forward and it doesn’t go back and fix the sentences of people that have already been sentenced under that provision. The reason why Congress likes to do prospective-only reform, if they change the mandatory minimums, nobody in the public is going to know that going forward. So there’s no political downside to doing prospective reform. However, if they do retroactive reform, that means people are actually getting released from prison early. And if that person gets out and goes and commits a heinous offense, well, then their political opponents will say, “You voted to let that person out and you’re responsible for it.” And there is political fallout. And so Congress generally doesn’t like to make anything retroactively applicable. For the first time, in the First Step Act, they made changes to the punishments retroactively applicable to people that were serving long sentences in federal prison for crack cocaine offenses, and we’ve seen several thousand people be resentenced, some that had mandatory life sentences for selling a couple handfuls of crack cocaine have actually been released from prison outright. And I think 95% of the people that have been resentenced under that bill are African Americans. So it’s helped reduce some of the disproportionate racial impact of the system. First Step created a bunch of other sentencing provisions that weren’t retroactively available but that will apply going forward, and also said that the focus of time in federal prisons should not just be punishment, it should be rehabilitation. It forced the Federal Bureau of Prisons to create meaningful rehabilitation programs. And then it did something really smart. It tied participation in those programs to a powerful incentive. Someone in prison, there is no better incentive in the world than the thought of, “If I do certain things, I’m going to be released early from prison.” And so what the First Step Act did, was it provided these earned time credits that told people in prison, “If you successfully complete these rehabilitation programs, and lower the chances that you’re going to get out and commit a new offense, we’re going to let you out of prison early.” So Congress did something smart there. But then they did something that was very stupid, which is they only allowed people who have committed nonviolent crimes to get the incentive of early release, when all of the data tells us that the people you most want to incentivize with the early release are people who have committed violent crimes and are the highest risk of recidivism. But unfortunately, because of politics, Congress excluded any violent offense, any sex offense from the earned time provision. It’s like most things Congress does: partially a good idea, but that wasn’t implemented fully to make it most effective. And then the third big thing that the First Step Act did was to change compassionate release and allow federal judges to grant compassionate release even when the government opposes it. And that has turned out to be one of the biggest parts of the bill. Nobody thought a whole lot about that section of the bill when it was being negotiated. But on most of these releases federal judges have granted for people that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 in federal prison, almost all of those have come through compassionate release. And without the First Step Act, none of those people’s sentences would have been reduced and they would still be sitting in prison and have a much greater likelihood of dying from COVID-19.

Amanda Knox 

Compassionate release, it’s basically taking people who require hospice care out of prisons and putting them into hospice care. Is that right?

Shon Hopwood 

Somewhat. In the federal system, it’s much broader than just medical issues. It can be medical issues, it can be elderly issues. Someone’s older, the judge can reduce their sentence. And unlike putting people in home confinement, compassionate release allows the judge to actually go in and reduce the sentence entirely, sometimes to time served. And so we’re seeing lots of compassionate release cases being granted, particularly this year, over 400 of them now, for a whole range of issues, including the fact that some judges have just reconsidered unusually long sentences that they imposed on defendants, and defendants have shown that while they’ve been incarcerated, they have worked to rehabilitate themselves, and federal judges have reconsidered those sentences and outright reduced them and allowed people to go home, which is a good thing. We should have second looks at sentences. You know, my judge, when he sentenced me, thought I would never make a productive citizen again. And my judge was wrong at sentencing. Judges are often wrong at sentencing about whether or not someone has the power to go to prison and turn their lives around. And when people do change their life around, we should reward them and get them out of prison if they’re no longer a danger to society.

Amanda Knox

I fully agree. And I think that the thing that you’re pushing up against is, some people believe that the finality of a sentence is an incredibly crucial part of what the criminal justice system should deliver. Why is that wrong?

Shon Hopwood  

Because it places a premium on the fact that the criminal justice system doesn’t ever make any mistakes, and that no sentence or conviction should ever be reconsidered. What we know about the criminal justice system is it often makes mistakes. We have innocence projects that have proved that people have been wrongfully convicted. We have sentences that seemed reasonable in the moment, but in hindsight, were overly punitive and not necessary. An injustice is an injustice. 

Amanda Knox 

For me, it seems obvious and intuitive that you would want the ability to revisit sentencing. And that’s because I have been incarcerated and I’ve witnessed the lives of human beings who are experiencing incarceration. And I wonder, is it just exposure that leads to this fundamental difference of opinion? What do you think?

Shon Hopwood  

I think some of it’s that. I think some of it is certain people believe that the certainty of sentencing matters more than anything else. They think that anyone who’s sentence is reduced even a small amount will lead to less deterrence of crime. I have studied deterrence theory in great detail, and what I can tell you is, you know, someone gets sentenced to 30 years, and then 20 years into their sentence their sentence is reduced, and they go home, that’s not going to reduce any deterrence, because nobody’s paying attention to that. In fact, nobody knows that they can get 30 years in prison for that crime in any event. You can’t be deterred by things you’re not aware of. Most Americans can’t name all three branches of government. They certainly can’t name all of the 5000 federal crimes that are in the United States Code, and they certainly don’t know any of the punishments for any of those crimes. 

Amanda Knox

What compromises were made in this First Step Act, and did they ever cause you to question whether to support it?

Shon Hopwood  

Yes. Yes, there were all sorts. You’re never going to get what you want from Congress in any criminal justice reform bill, and anybody that tells you otherwise hasn’t been through the process. There are always going to be compromises. The part that was the most difficult for me was, remember I said there were four sentencing provisions in the First Step Act, but only one of those was retroactively applicable and we pushed to get all four retroactively applicable, but the White House negotiated that away in order to get the Fraternal Order of Police to sign onto the bill? Now, without having at least some law enforcement lobby support the bill, we probably could not have gotten the bill passed. But it was very difficult to sit in meetings and watch that be given up when I have friends in federal prison who have really long, draconian sentences, who are not a risk to anyone, who could be released, and watch as their one chance of getting relief was negotiated away. It was very hard for me to sit in those meetings and be okay with that. Ultimately, I did. And I think that was the right decision, especially given how big an impact the change to compassionate release was for people that are at great risk of being infected by COVID and not surviving it in federal prison. But it was difficult. There were also people that were just angry with me because I was working with the White House and they don’t like this president. And I used to be one of those people that would stand outside the system and throw rocks at it. But what I always come back to is, people in federal prison that I care about would often tell me, “Shon, standing on the outside throwing rocks at the system is not getting us home any sooner.” And so I decided to start working within the system. And when you do that, you realize that your own wants and desires are not what this is about. People were mad and angry at me and some people still are. But I continue to believe that the First Step was an important first step. We need to go back and get more. But I do think that going back to get more will be easier because the First Step Act was passed. 

Amanda Knox  

Is there a Second Step Act in the works?

Shon Hopwood 

This is an election year. Not to mention we have the pandemic. I’m not certain anyone’s thinking much about criminal justice reform at the moment. But hopefully, when we get a handle on the pandemic, and we get past the election, whoever is the next President will make that a focus. Because without having the president support criminal justice reform, it’s nearly impossible to get such a bill through Congress.

Amanda Knox  

So not all of us can be in the room where it happens, as Lin-Manuel would say. What can an everyday person do to pave the way for further criminal justice reform?

Shon Hopwood 

I get asked that question a lot. Giving money and volunteering with criminal justice reform organizations is hugely important. I’m on the board of FAMM, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, I work with them almost weekly. Groups like that are always needing more money and more people to help. But I’ll tell you, one of the things I always come back to is something that people can do today that doesn’t involve passing a bill, and that is: go into federal or state prisons and teach a class. Go provide what wisdom you have to people on the inside who most need it. I know lots of people who said they would never do this, who then went in and taught a class in prison. You can have a profound impact on the people inside prison, but it will also have a profound impact on you. I think if we had more Americans involved with trying to rehabilitate people, one, we’d see more rehabilitation, but two, it comes with the added benefit that wardens tend to treat people in their prison a lot better when they know there’s going to be lots of outside eyes coming in and out. The more that we can get more Americans to go into prisons and teach classes, the better, in my view.

Amanda Knox  

Do you have any final thoughts?

Shon Hopwood 

I hope more Americans will consider why it is the case, and I’ve never had anyone in law enforcement ever answer this question sufficiently to me, why is it the case that the country that claims to be the land of liberty and the home of the free is also the world’s leading incarcerator of people? Those two things are mutually inconsistent with each other. Why do we have to be the world’s largest incarcerator and if it’s not leading to public safety? Why do we continue to do it? I think once Americans grapple with that question, they’ll quickly realize it makes very little sense to send as many people as we do to prison for as long as we do. No other country does this.