More than 30 years after President Reagan declared a war on drugs and more than 20 years after President Clinton declared a war on lawlessness, President Obama has described our criminal justice system as broken; and plagued by overaggressive policing, prison overcrowding, and abominable conditions for inmates. He also characterized the criminal justice system as an “aspect of American life that remains particularly skewed by race and wealth, a source of inequity that has ripple effects on families and communities and ultimately on our nation.” The president is joined in this view by a broad and increasingly bipartisan group of Americans interested in finding ways to reform criminal justice in America.
How the expansion of the U.S. criminal justice system over the last four decades has affected children and families is a critical concern for researchers and some policymakers. We know that family effects are profound, complex, variable, and often disconcerting: “low-level” and “nonviolent” offenders, for example, can sometimes be a source of disarray and violence in their own families, and “violent” and “serious” offenders are sometimes stalwart spouses and parents. This volume of The ANNALS sheds light on the prospects and perils of U.S. criminal justice reform for family life, and provides guidance for policy and future research.