Today’s post is about criminal justice reform and starts off with an interesting article mentioning that political scientist Marie Gottschalk calls for a “third Reconstruction.”  The article goes on to say “But the language of “reconstruction” can’t be employed without considering what preceded it—abolition. We abolished the institution of slavery. We abolished legalized segregation. If we want a third Reconstruction to take place, the abolition of prisons should be on the table.”  This is a question that I have been pondering for years … what would we do if we had a world with no prisons? How would we address wrongdoing?

The subsequent articles highlight the Obama administration’s commitment to criminal justice reform, the reforms that have been introduced in Congress, misconceptions underlying opposition to reforms, and ending up with a short video by the Koch Institute on Sentencing.

  1. Making a case for prison abolition, not just sentencing and prison reform
  2. The Senate’s Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill Only Tackles Half the Problem
  3. Obama launches criminal justice tour: ‘Something I’ll keep fighting for’
  4. Sentencing Reform: A Page From the Old Playbook?
  5. 6 Misconceptions Underlying Opposition to Sentencing Reform
  6. Short Video From The Charles Koch Institute On Sentencing

Making a case for prison abolition, not just sentencing and prison reform
Sentencing Law & Policy Blog, Oct. 17, 2015

This notable article (following) in The Nation authored by Mychal Denzel Smith seeks to make the case for a prison abolition movement that would go far beyond the kinds of sentencing reform garnering bipartisan support these day.  This commentary is headlined, ‘The Senate’s Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill Only Tackles Half the Problem: If we don’t face the injustice of the very existence of prisons, the root causes of mass incarceration will go unaddressed.'”


The Senate’s Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill Only Tackles Half the Problem
If we don’t face the injustice of the very existence of prisons, the root causes of mass incarceration will go unaddressed.
Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation, Oct. 14, 2015


If the US is serious about reducing high levels of concentrated violence,” Gottschalk writes, “then addressing the country’s high levels of inequality and concentrated poverty should become a top priority, not a public-policy afterthought.

Determination to “do something” about the issue of mass incarceration has, at last, moved from the academic and activist worlds into the halls of Congress: At the beginning of October, a bipartisan coalition of Senators, including Chuck Grassley, Dick Durbin, Cory Booker, John Cornyn, and Tim Scott, unveiled a criminal-justice-reform plan. Whether that “something” they’re doing is commensurate to the scale of the problem, though, depends on the terms of the debate.


“Abolition makes sense, though, only if we see prisons as a site of injustice in and of themselves. And they are—not only because of the violence of rape and murder that exists within prison walls, the psychological damage, the lack of educational opportunities, and the denial of due process that locks up innocent people. Prison is the means by which we tell ourselves we are dealing with our societal ills, but only creating more. Prison makes us lazy thinkers, hungry for revenge instead of justice. Prison is a violent representation of our failure to fight inequality at all levels. In abolishing prison, we force ourselves to answer the difficult question: How do we provide safety and security for all people? Abolition will not win right now. But an abolitionist framework for crafting reforms would lead to more substantial changes in the US prison system. An abolitionist framework makes us consider not only reducing mandatory minimums but eliminating them altogether. An abolitionist framework would call for us to decriminalize possession and sale of drugs. Abolition would end the death penalty and life sentences, and push the maximum number of years that can be served for any offense down to ten years, at most. ….”


Obama launches criminal justice tour: ‘Something I’ll keep fighting for’
Gregory Korte, USA Today, Oct. 17, 2015


“WASHINGTON — President Obama said Saturday that he’ll launch a nationwide criminal justice tour next week, an effort that he says will ‘highlight some of the Americans who are doing their part to fix our criminal justice system.’

“‘Much of our criminal justice system remains unfair,’ Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday morning. “In recent years, more of our eyes have been opened to this truth. We can’t close them anymore. And good people, of all political persuasions, are eager to do something about it.”


Sentencing Reform: A Page From the Old Playbook?
William R. Kelly, The Crime Report, Oct. 13, 2015

“It has been a busy month so far for federal criminal justice reform. On October 1, the Senate unveiled the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. On October 8, the House Sentencing Reform Act was introduced.

“The bills share much in common and have been portrayed as “comprehensive,” “extensive,” “landmark legislation,” a “game-changer,” and “the most important federal criminal justice overhaul in a generation.” But there are many questions about the mechanics of this legislation, as well as questions about the longer-term consequences—such as their impact on federal incarceration levels, racial disparities in sentencing and, importantly, recidivism.

“There are also serious questions about whether they will ever see the light of day, given that Congress seems hopelessly mired in partisan politics. The bills’ provisions include the following:

  • reducing some mandatory minimum sentences for low level, non-violent drug offenders;* reducing the mandatory life without parole for a third drug or violent felony to 25 years:
  • reducing the mandatory minimum 20 years for a second drug of violent felony to 15 years;
  • closing the crack-powder cocaine disparity and making it retroactive;
  • providing judges with more discretion in sentencing selected low-level drug cases:
  • reducing the 15- and 25- year mandatory minimum sentences for certain gun crimes to 10 years and 15 years
  • reducing the federal three-strikes law from life to 25 years;
  • reducing time served for inmates who participate in prison programs; and creating some new  mandatory minimum sentences


“In short, federal criminal justice policy has been, and seemingly will continue to be, drastically out of balance, focusing nearly exclusively on punishment. Unfortunately, punishment does not change the underlying reasons many offenders are involved in crime, and that is the primary reason we have out-of-control recidivism and a failed criminal justice system.”


6 Misconceptions Underlying Opposition to Sentencing Reform
Is reducing prison terms reckless in light of drug and crime trends?
Jacob Sullum,, Oct. 13, 2015



Check out this short video from the Charles Koch Institute on sentencing:

Mens Rea in 60 Seconds

Who knows what the extremely dysfunctional Congress will do. We hope that they will at least start to make some rational changes. In Hawai`i we have a REAL OPPORTUNITY to make serious reforms to our unjust and broken criminal justice system. That is why YOUR VOICE MATTERS. Please raise it up for justice in 2016. We cannot continue on this unsustainable course of lazy justice. Simply locking up people doesn’t solve anything…working to rehabilitate and help people understand their own behavior is what works with humans.





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