The Square One Project aims to incubate new thinking on our response to crime, promote more effective strategies, and contribute to a new narrative of justice in America. Learn more about the Square One Project at squareonejustice.org.

The Executive Session on the Future of Justice Policy, part of the Square One Project, brings together researchers, practitioners, policy makers, advocates, and community representatives to generate and cultivate new ideas. The group meets in an off-the-record setting twice a year to examine research, discuss new concepts, and refine proposals from group members. The Session publishes a paper series intended to catalyze thinking and propose policies to reduce incarceration and develop new responses to violence and the other social problems that can emerge under conditions of poverty and racial inequality. By bringing together diverse perspectives, the Executive Session tests and pushes its participants to challenge their own thinking and consider new options.

Who are we? Ever since we could ponder such a question, we have looked to philosophers, theologians, and scientists for answers. And yet, maybe we don’t need to apprehend the heavens or dissect the atom to understand our inner nature. Maybe the answer is simpler: we are what we value.

Accordingly, this paper seeks to answer the question: what does American criminal justice reveal about what we value and who we are? I first explain why our criminal justice values are so intertwined with our identity. I then briefly discuss the historical backdrop of the current values underlying criminal justice. And finally, I provide a revised set of values and argue that they better reflect who we are today.

Originally appeared in The Square One Project. A Product of the Executive Session on the Future of Justice Policy