A prolonged era of mass incarceration has resulted in extraordinary rates of imprisonment in the United States, particularly among some of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. Due to rising social and economic costs of incarceration, there is great need, and opportunity, to reverse this dreadful trend. 

The United States at the beginning of the 21st century finds itself facing the enormous challenge of decarceration -- reducing its overreliance on incarceration. America's incarceration rates are so high that the need for decarceration at this large of a scale is unprecedented worldwide. Seldom before in the nation’s history has the need for applied social innovation been more urgent.

The Smart Decarceration Initiative aims to stimulate cross-sector applied policy and behavioral intervention research that will reduce the incarcerated population in ways that are humane, socially just, and sustainable. "Smart" decarceration will occur when:

  1. The incarcerated population in U.S. jails and prisons is substantially lessened
  2. Existing racial and economic disparities among the incarcerated are redressed
  3. Public safety and public health are maximized

In order to progress toward these goals, the Smart Decarceration Initiative promotes transdisciplinary work that:

  1. Reconsiders the utility and function of incarceration
  2. Supports innovations across sectors of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, courts, jails, prisons, and community supervision
  3. Develops, rigorously evaluates, and applies emerging evidence to policy and practice in real-world settings in real time

To launch this area of work, an inaugural conference, From Mass Incarceration to Effective and Sustainable Decarceration, was held on September 24-27, 2015, at Washington University in St. Louis.

The goal for this conference is to bring together the very best thinkers in policy, practice and research to present their work and to help set an agenda for moving decarceration forward. 

The Smart Decarceration Initiative, based at the Center for Social Development (CSD), is led by Matthew Epperson, associate professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and Carrie Pettus-Davis, assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis.