In support of sentencing reform

We open with an article about Louisiana – the state that incarcerates more people than anywhere else in the U.S. – that is currently reviewing the sentences of 16,000 people who could have their prison time shortened as criminal law changes take effect Nov. 1. This is another red state that is working on criminal justice reform while Hawai`i is proposing to build BIG new jails and prisons. Why is Hawai`iʻs solution for dealing with overcrowding always more beds? WE NEED MORE JUSTICE!

We follow this article with a Washington Post piece about releasing violent lawbreakers – not just non-violent lawbreakers – to reform the criminal processing system.

Lastly, we follow with the summary of the Urban Instituteʻs report, A MATTER OF TIME,  and the write up in Professor Bermanʻs Sentencing Law and Policy Blog about it.

 

Louisiana to review 16,000 prison sentences as criminal justice reform takes effect
Julia O’Donoghue, August 16, 2012, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Excerpt:
“Louisiana’s Public Safety and Corrections officials are reviewing the sentences of 16,000 inmates who could have their prison time shortened as criminal law changes take effect Nov. 1. That’s around 45 percent of the 35,500 people the state has locked up now.

“Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state Legislature overhauled the criminal justice system this past spring, aiming to reduce Louisiana’s highest-in-the-world incarceration rate. Some law changes have already taken place, but changes that mostly retroactively affect low-level offenders in prison go into place in November — driving the review.”

 

The case for releasing violent offenders
Radley Balko, August 14, 2017, Washington Post

Excerpt:
In an important op-ed in the New York Times last week, Marc Morjé Howard argued in favor of parole — not just for drug offenders but also for violent offenders. It isn’t an easy argument to make. But it’s past time to start making it.

“Prisoners whose sentences include a range of years — such as 15 to 25 years, or 25 years to life — can apply to their state’s parole board for discretionary parole, but they almost always face repeated denials and are sent back to wither away behind bars despite evidence of rehabilitation. (Inmates who have served their maximum sentence are released on what is called mandatory parole.)

“Rejection is usually based on the “nature of the crime,” rather than an evaluation of a person’s transformation and accomplishments since they committed it. The deeper reason for the rejection of discretionary parole requests is simple: fear. Politicians and parole board members are terrified that a parolee will commit a new crime that attracts negative media attention. …

“…Retribution is the dominant paradigm driving incarceration today. We want to punish criminals. We want them to suffer. We create hostile prison environments rife with violence, racial resentment and rape. This is what politicians have run on and demagogued since the Warren Court. …

“…In the end, this is a question of what sort of society we want to be. We can be a punitive society that believes in retribution, no matter the costs. We can be a society that believes in redemption, regardless of cost. Or we can be a society of people who strive for a rational, data-driven system that will never be perfect, but that will strive to protect us from truly dangerous people while also recognizing that, as the attorney and activist Bryan Stevenson puts it, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

 

A Matter of Time: The Causes and Consequences of Rising Time Served in America’s Prisons
Urban Institute, July 2017
Executive Summary
Excerpt:
“Policymakers on both sides of the aisle now recognize mass incarceration as a costly and dangerous problem. Yet many criminal justice reforms focus only on low-level offenses while the longest prison terms continue to grow even longer. These long terms keep prison populations high and prevent states from meaningfully addressing mass incarceration. The conversation around reform must begin to include people convicted of serious offenses and consider not just how many people go to prison but how long they stay there.”

 

Urban Institute releases “A Matter of Time: The Causes and Consequences of Rising Time Served in America’s Prisons”
Sentencing Law & Policy, July 13, 2017

 

We need policymakers and legislators with backbone. Ones who actually acknowledge the values that our communities hold dear, who understand that sound policymaking is dependent upon scientifically-sound and thoughtful deliberation and who are willing to stand up for the truth. 

2018 is really close. START ASKING QUESTIONS OF YOUR LEGISLATOR NOW. DEMAND TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND INTEGRITY!

 

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