When it comes to criminal justice reform, neither citizens nor officials have endorsed the view that problems are solved iteratively. Reluctance to be associated with programs judged failures has stifled innovation and kept criminal justice reformers spinning their wheels.
Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure argues that public policies cannot be neatly divided into successes and failures. The book examines well-intended programs that for one reason or another fell short of their objectives (D.A.R.E. and Operation Ceasefire being prime examples) yet also had positive effects. Greg Berman and Aubrey Fox tell the stories of committed reformers—judges, cops, attorneys, parole officers, researchers, educators, and politicians—who, despite their knowledge and ambition, did not quite achieve their goals. They introduce readers to a parole officer who has to make a tough judgment call, a legislator who endures political pressure to rewrite sentencing laws, a judge who attempts a new response to drug offenses despite local resistance, and many others.
“While our research has not unearthed a foolproof path to successful reform, we do know how to guarantee failure, and that is to continue with business as usual,” write Berman and Fox. Trial and Error encourages reformers to learn from their predecessors, analyze their own foibles, and keep innovating.