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This Essay employs a variation of the “interest convergence” concept to examine the competing interests at stake in downsizing imprisonment in the United States. In the last few decades, the country has become the world leader in both incarceration rates and number of inmates. Reversing these trends is a common goal of multiple parties, who advocate prison reform under different rationales. Some advocate less imprisonment as a means of tempering the disparate effects of imprisonment on individual offenders and the communities to which they return. Others support downsizing based on conservative values that favor reduced government size, spending, and interference in the lives of citizens. Still others see downsizing primarily as a means of reducing fiscal spending and balancing budgets; with some state correctional systems having morphed into a multi-billion dollar a year commitment, punishment has become a great financial drain. Of these competing rationales, interest convergence theory suggests that economic interests will be a driving force of prison reform. If the last few years are indicative, legislatures, courts, and executive officials will continue to take cost into increasing consideration in creating law and policy, and ultimately the need to save money will rein in the criminal justice system. This Essay contends that downsizing imprisonment in the name of saving money may not be the most principled basis for reform, but it should nonetheless be welcomed by prison reformers of all stripes. As unfortunate as it may be, for the bedraggled communities and neighborhoods burdened by the collateral costs of mass imprisonment, any means will suffice.

This Essay explores the issues in five parts, first focusing on Converging Interests in Downsizing, second Cutting Costs in Corrections and Realigning Ideology, third Reducing Structural Harm on the Inside and Out, then the Economic Interests Will Reign in Criminal Justice, and finally By Any Means Necessary: Ending American Exceptionalism.