On the 50th anniversary of “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society,” Carnegie Mellon criminologist Alfred Blumstein, a commission staff member, says that, “one thing that did come out of it was a movement toward thinking of the criminal justice system as a system.”
If you’ve ever called 911 to report an emergency, thank President Johnson’s Crime Commission. Establishing a national emergency number was just one of more than 200 recommendations the panel offered in a landmark 1967 report “for a safer and more just society,” NPR reports. The report, “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society,” called for sweeping changes in policing, the courts and corrections. Carnegie Mellon criminologist Alfred Blumstein, a commission staff member, says that, “one thing that did come out of it was a movement toward thinking of the criminal justice system as a system.”
Sheldon Krantz was also on the commission staff. Now a visiting law professor at Georgetown University, he worked on the panel’s police task force at a time when brutal police clashes with residents sometimes played out in full view during race riots across the country. “I think it’s fair to say in the ’60s, police in America were in a somewhat primitive state, there was limited training, a lack of education, a lack of diversity,” Krantz says. Laurie Robinson of George Mason University, a co-chairperson of President Obama’s task force on 21st century policing, says the Johnson crime commission report was a guidepost for her group in a number of areas. Robinson says the commission spelled out new expectations for police, the courts, corrections and other players in the criminal justice system. “The Johnson crime commission is really the most influential study of crime justice that has ever been undertaken in the United States,” she says. Robinson and others will gather in a symposium this month at George Washington University law school to discuss the 50th anniversary of the report. There’s also a bipartisan push in Congress to establish a new commission to review the criminal justice system from top to bottom.