In doing so, we must move beyond the narrow parameters that have constrained our nation’s debate about criminal justice policy over the last several decades. There is no doubt that we must be "tough on crime." But we must also commit ourselves to being "smart on crime." And we must realize that these approaches complement, rather than contradict, each other. In the six months that I have served as Attorney General, I have worked to advance this fundamental truth: it is time to move past politics and ideology, and to move forward to a criminal justice system that is predicated on the fact that we need it to be fair and effective. In sum, we need to adopt what works.
Getting smart on crime requires talking openly about which policies have worked and which have not. And we have to do so without worrying about being labeled as too soft or too hard on crime. Getting smart on crime means moving beyond useless labels and catch-phrases, and instead relying on science and data to shape policy. And getting smart on crime means thinking about crime in context – not just reacting to the criminal act, but developing the government’s ability to enhance public safety before the crime is committed and after the former offender is returned to society.
We will not focus exclusively on incarceration as the most effective means of protecting public safety. For although spending on prison construction continues to increase, public safety is not continuing to improve. Crime rates appear to have reached a plateau beyond which they no longer decline in response to increases in incarceration. Indeed, since 2003, spending on incarceration has continued to rise, but crime rates have flattened.