- Half of U.S. prison population serving time for a violent offense
- Report features reforms in 19 states over 20 years with more effective responses to violent crime
(From Press Release) – As the White House today prepares to celebrate a criminal justice reform achievement, passage of the First Step Act, a new report from The Sentencing Project suggests the critical next step to ending mass incarceration is addressing excessive punishments for violent offenses.
“While the bipartisan consensus around criminal justice reform has grabbed headlines, real reductions in mass incarceration cannot occur without confronting the excessive punishments for people convicted of violent offenses,” said Nazgol Ghandnoosh, author of The Next Step: Ending Excessive Punishment for Violent Crimes. “While still uncommon, states have shown a more humane approach to achieving public safety is possible.”
The Next Step highlights 15 reforms in 19 states implemented over the past two decades that have produced more effective, fiscally sound, and humane policies for people convicted of violent crimes. These reforms include: shortening excessive prison terms for violent convictions, scaling back collateral consequences, narrowing broad definitions of violence, ending long term solitary confinement, and rejecting the death penalty.
Recent reforms in Mississippi and California exemplify this next step in criminal justice reform. Mississippi legislators reformed the state’s truth-in-sentencing requirement for violent crimes in 2014, reducing the proportion of a sentence that individuals with certain violent convictions have to serve before becoming eligible for parole from 85% to 50%. In 2018, California expanded specialized parole hearings that account for immature brain development to young adults under age 26.
Long sentences ultimately incapacitate older people who pose little public safety threat, produce limited deterrent effect since most people do not expect to be caught, and detract from more effective investments in public safety.
Nationwide criminal justice reforms have reduced the number of people imprisoned for drug crimes by 22% between 2007 and 2015. But they have yet to meaningfully reduce excessive penalties for violent crimes. Nearly half of the U.S. prison population is now serving time for a violent offense, including assault and robbery. Although the violent crime rate has plummeted to half of its early-1990s level, the number of people imprisoned for a violent offense grew until 2009, and has since declined by just 3%.
To read the full report, The Next Step: Ending Excessive Punishment for Violent Crimes by Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project, click here.