Keynote Address


I am pleased to join the distinguished participants in this colloquium devoted to the prison overcrowding crisis. Prisons and jails are over-crowded. That is an obvious fact. Courts can take judicial notice of it.Further, it is a proposition which governors, attorney generals and corrections commissioners are asserting, although in the past they earnestly resisted such allegations.

The existence of the crisis is now generally accepted as true. However, the word “crisis” means many things, and the outcome of this conference may depend on the sense in which the word is intended to be used. For example, if the term is meant to suggest “crisis atmosphere,” in which, because of the pressures of events, hasty and ad hoc decisions must be made, the contribution of the colloquium will be limited. A definition more suitable for dealing with the problem is Webster’s: “the point of time when it is decided whether an affair or course of action shall proceed, be modified or terminate.” For us this point of time is now. The decision we face is whether the course of action which created the present state of affairs shall proceed, be modified or terminate. Changing the present state requires deliberate and considered discussion leading to long-term remedies.

The task of a keynoter is to set the issue in perspective. This is best done by considering how we got where we are, what the scope of the problem is, and what the range or mix of solutions may be.

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