We will be posting new 360 exchanges — moderated email discussions, debates and round tables that take place among a group of experts. Community residents, gang members, corrections officers, ex-offenders, academics, legislators and others share their views about a particular topic.

360Degrees asked six people, with different political affiliations and experiences of the criminal justice system, to respond to questions about the growing prison population in the United States. The 6 participants were Luis Barrios, Ellen Halbert, Carl Johnson, Bill Jones, Mario Myers, and Vincent Schiraldi. The discussion was moderated by David Anderson.

Please visit the discussion board to share your opinions.


Question #1 from the first 360exhange:

A recent article in The New York Times reports that "the first studies to look at the link between the enormous growth of incarceration and the significant drop in crime in the 1990's show that the nation's prison-building boom has accounted for 5 percent to 25 percent of the eight-year decline."

Does this justify state and federal criminal justice policies that cause the number of Americans behind bars to approach 2 million?
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"It isn't the fear of crime itself that is so frightening; it is the fear of violent crime."

- Ellen Halbert

Question #2:
Many observers of the criminal justice system say that there is an urgent need for better, "sorting" -- deciding which people convicted of crimes should go to prison and which should be sanctioned in other ways. Do you agree? If you do, who should have the power to make the sorting decisions and on what basis should they be made?
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"The mechanisms for 'sorting' already exist within the criminal justice systems... but are fragmented by the specific responsibilities of each agency."

- Carl Johnson Jr.