Like other prison reform advocates (from Harvard and other places), Professor Western understands that what we really need to do is rehabilitate the system from the ground up, starting with offenders themselves and with the many examples of systemic injustice that factor into criminal behavior such as poverty, substance abuse, childhood trauma and racism.
Professor Western's work and America's Prison Problem is featured in the current issue of Harvard Magazine.
Western and his team of researchers are studying offenders as they reenter society after prison stays, in an effort to understand why about two-thirds of them re-offend. The researchers are finding impediments to successful transitions that range from challenges in getting jobs and finding housing to difficulty in making decisions after living in a custodial setting where you always get ordered around.
Among the factors that allow former prisoners to triumph over systemic injustice and move beyond personal criminal pasts are the following: age, housing, employment, family support and mental health/substance abuse counseling.
Professor Western is spearheading a series of interdisciplinary meetings at the Harvard Kennedy School to bring together various stakeholders such as law enforcement, lawyers, counselors and ex-offenders in an effort to find solutions to America's prison problem and help end the problem of mass incarceration.