Fall 2015

Key Terms for Understanding Criminal Justice Reform


Date: November 29, 2015

Criminal Justice Reform: A broad term that refers to work to improve the criminal justice system, including overlapping efforts affect police forces, prosecution policies, the courts system, access to legal aid, prisons and incarceration rates and re-entry for previously incarcerated individuals. (

Mass Incarceration: The United States leads the world in international incarceration rates. There are currently about 2.2 million people in U.S. jails and prisons, or 1 in 35 adults, a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years. These trends are directly related to changes in sentencing law and policy, rather than actual crime rates, and disproportionately affect people of color. (

War on Drugs: The War on Drugs is an American phrase denoting policies to reduce the illegal drug trade in the U.S., first popularized when President Richard Nixon declared drugs “public enemy number one” in 1971. Programs established then were predecessors to the modern Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (

#BlackLivesMatter Movement: A grassroots movement to end police brutality against people of color, created in July 2012 after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin. In July 2015, leaders gathered in Cleveland, Ohio, for the first Movement for Black Lives Convening. (

Thirteenth Amendment: Ratified in 1865, this Constitutional Amendment abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

School-to-Prison Pipeline: The ACLU defines this as “the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, [reflecting] the prioritization of incarceration over education.” (

Ban the Box: A national campaign by All of Us or None to remove the conviction history question from job applications. Since its start in 2004, over 100 local governments have adopted this fair chance policy, resulting in an increase in those with prior convictions entering the workforce. (

Prison-Industrial Complex: As defined by journalist Eric Schlosser, “a set of bureaucratic, political, and economic interests that encourage increased spending on imprisonment, regardless of the actual need.”  (

Police Body Cameras: “On-officer recording systems” worn by police officers to record their interactions with the public. A strategy the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has deemed a potential “win-win” in preventing police violence. (