Parsimony and Other Radical Ideas About Justice

How to envision a justice system that combines the least possible punishment with the greatest possible healing, from an all-star cast of contributors

“The state is entitled to deprive its citizens of liberty only when that is reasonably necessary to serve a legitimate social purpose. Any liberty deprivation beyond that minimum is gratuitous and constitutes state violence.”
—from the introduction to Parsimony and Other Radical Ideas About Justice

After decades of overpolicing and ever-more punitive criminal justice measures, the time has come for a new approach to violence and community safety. Parsimony and Other Radical Ideas About Justice brings together leading activists, legal practitioners, and researchers, many of them justice-involved, to envision a justice system that applies a less-is-more framework to achieve the goal of public safety. Grounded in a new social contract heralding safety not punishment, community power not state power, the book describes a paradigm shift where justice is provided not by police and prisons, but in healing from harm.

A distinguished cast of contributors shows that a parsimonious approach to punishment, alongside a reckoning with racism and affirming human dignity, would fundamentally change how we respond to harm. We would encourage mercy in the face of violence, replace police with community investment, address the trauma lying at the heart of mass incarceration, reduce pre-trial incarceration, close the democracy gap between community residents and government policymakers, and eliminate youth prisons, among other significant changes to justice policy.


“At a moment of growing support to challenge mass incarceration, Parsimony and Other Radical Ideas About Justice provides us with a compelling vision for transforming our approach to public safety. It is long past time to reject punishment as a guiding principle and to adopt instead a strategy that relies on strengthening the capacity of individuals and communities to thrive.”
—Marc Mauer, senior advisor, The Sentencing Project, and author of Race to Incarcerate

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