Giving people the opportunity to improve their lives by addressing the root causes of their behavior achieves better public safety outcomes than fines, supervision, and jail.



This is Functional Sentencing.



How It Works
Sometimes it's hard to see how the public safety apparatus can be tweaked to leverage existing in-community expertise to improve lives, reduce recidivism, and save society money. This process map shows how that would work for all involved.






Why It Works

The effectiveness of any justice system intervention should be determined by its ability to reduce recidivism, i.e. change future. Punitive approaches fail to achieve this goal of reduced recidivism because they rely on an outdated understanding of criminality and leave the underlying causes of offending behavior unaddressed.



Traditional punishments increase the likelihood of crime.

Incarceration leads to increased recidivism, harms people's ability to keep or get a job, threatens their families' housing and well-being, and impairs their children's performance in school. Moreover, mass incarceration has increased overall poverty in America.



Money fines are just as bad.

Money fines increase the chances and length of homelessness, exacerbate poverty, and trap people in a cycle of punishment and poverty.


Rehabilitation reduces recidivism.

If rehabilitation is clearly focused on therapeutic measures (e.g. counseling, interpersonal skill development, cognitive-behavioral therapy, etc...) in lieu of punitive ones (e.g. drug testing and strict controls like curfew and reporting), rehabilitation works.


Improving a person's socioeconomic prospects reduces recidivism.

Simple things like strong interpersonal connections, staying sober, and having a job are all linked to reduced likelihood of committing a crime. Even access to public benefits decreases risk. This strengths-based theory for crime reduction is called positive criminology. Our Functional Sentencing model incorporates elements of therapeutic justice, participatory justice, and positive criminology into a working protocol.


This matches our experience.

In our experience practicing this style of law in Street Outreach Court Detroit and serving homeless veterans, we found that the receipt of human services coupled with legal relief was directly tied to reduced recidivism. We distilled these lessons into our Functional Sentencing model. Our pilot projects in Hamtramck (concluded) and Detroit (paused) indicate that our model can be implemented from the bar or the bench.


Functional Sentencing can be implemented without cost.

Specialty courts are effective but come with a high price tag, due to its in-sourcing of services and tight supervision of participants. However, because Functional Sentencing leverages existing in-community services, adopting it requires only a change in mindset and practice. Moveover, Functional Sentencing has lower administrative cost than payment plans, in-house community service programs, and jailtime.






Tools for Functional Sentencing


Citizens & Community




Courts & Defenders


Wanna talk to us?
We'd love to talk to you! Email us, and we'll set something up.