The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy serves as the hub of the Harvard Kennedy School’s research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain. The center embraces a dual mission: to educate students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and practice; and to convene and provide policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.
Starting with the Nixon administration in the early 1970s, and gaining steam throughout the next decade, the prevailing view on criminal justice was that “tough on crime laws make crime rates go down.” That sentiment was predicated on the notion that criminals were not being sufficiently punished for their offenses, and that sentences must be increased—including mandatory minimums and “three strikes laws”—both to remove criminals from communities, and to deter others from committing crimes. The incarceration rate more than tripled between 1980 and its peak in 2008, from 310 to 1,000 prisoners per 100,000 adults—some 2.3 million people in all. Today, the United States leads the world in incarceration, with a rate more than 4 times that of comparable democracies in Western Europe.
Reform of the criminal justice system must take into account each stage of the process, respecting the due process rights of individuals throughout their interaction with the system while at the same time bringing criminals to justice and improving overall public safety.
Full TextThe United States is a nation of immigrants. For centuries, waves of migrants and refugees have arrived in America seeking economic opportunity or religious freedom. While many have found what they desired, and assimilated into American culture, many others have encountered persecution, resentment, and xenophobia. As the third rail of American politics, immigration has long been a source of controversy, with policy split between two competing visions of what the country could be: on the one hand, a rights-oriented, humanitarian vision that imagines open doors to opportunity and shelter; on the other hand, an exclusionary and Ameri-centric vision that imagines protected, walled-off borders. Recently, our politics and media have been flooded with images of the latter: children piled into cages at detention camps, migrant caravans “invading” the southern border, endless fights in the courts over walls and travel bans. These images did not originate with the Trump administration—previous presidents have also pursued anti-immigration policies on asylum and deportations—though the current administration has greatly exacerbated them.
Building on the well-established legal foundation for a rights-based vision of immigration, comprehensive reform in due process and humanitarian protections are necessary for those arriving at our borders.
See the other issues of our Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series here.
A right of equal access to public goods and services is rooted in the rights to ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ With these rights, the Declaration of Independence asserts the concept of equality as a founding principle, while nearly a century later in the nation’s “second founding” after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution goes further in guaranteeing equal protection of the law. These documents create the principle from which a right of equal access is derived, including access to education, health care, housing, and environmental protection.
Throughout American history, the concepts of liberty and equality have been intertwined but also conflicted.
Current trends within public education, health care, housing, and environmental protection reflect burgeoning disparities in opportunity. Public policy in recent years has centered around the promotion of macroeconomic growth but has done little to guarantee individual and societal well-being, reinforcing the focus of the private sector on maximizing shareholder value, often at the expense of employees and consumers. These policies have exacerbated the inequality of access to public goods and services, such as health and education, among significant portions of the population, who lack the agency and the opportunity to sustain themselves. It is critical that the United States responds to the public health and economic crises by protecting liberty, equality, and securing equal access to public goods and services.
“The Carr Center is building a bridge between ideas on human rights and the practice on the ground. Right now we are at a critical juncture. The pace of technological change and the rise of authoritarian governments are both examples of serious challenges to the flourishing of individual rights. It’s crucial that Harvard and the Kennedy School continue to be a major influence in keeping human rights ideals alive. The Carr Center is a focal point for this important task.”
- Mathias Risse