Remaking Carceral Policy: A Response to Littman
Aaron Littman’s Jails, Sheriffs, and Carceral Policymaking marshals an immense amount of empirical data, drawn from a dizzying array of legal and policy sources, to reframe our thinking about what is and should be possible in criminal justice reform at the local level. Littman centers local-level sheriffs, who are too often neglected in legal, political science, and criminological literatures alike; he analyzes the local sheriff as both “site and agent of carceral policymaking.” Through this focus on sheriffs, describing their legal powers, tracing the incentives that motivate their exercises of power, and analyzing dozens of actual examples of sheriffs making carceral policy, Littman identifies surprisingly simple regulatory and electoral interventions likely to have complex and far-reaching effects on decarceration agendas. The analysis is paradigm shifting in three specific ways. First, Littman attends to the implications of role consolidation in criminal justice policymaking. Second, Littman reframes the debate about whether to reform, or defund and decarcerate. Third, Littman provides a new framework for analyzing criminal justice policymaking (even beyond the jails context), functioning at the intersection of bed supply and body demand. I will discuss each in turn.