By Daphne Ho
WASHINGTON, DC – The Sentencing Project released a report this month that focuses on practical solutions for mass incarceration in the U.S., co-written by Liz Komar, J.D., Sentencing Reform Counsel; Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., Co-Director of Research; and Kristen M. Budd, Ph.D., Research Analyst.
Komar noted, “the U.S. must dramatically shorten sentences… Lawmakers can do this by capping sentences for the most serious offenses at 20 years and shifting sentences for all other offenses proportionately downward, including by decriminalizing some acts.”
The report cites examples of these solutions finding success in German and Norwegian’s rehabilitative systems because they show “sentences can be far shorter without sacrificing public safety,” and cites evidence from criminal research that long sentences are not necessary due to “aging out of crime,” and “the general threat of long-term imprisonment is an ineffective deterrent.”
Nellis writes, “we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world” due to extensive sentences, adding, “social and economic inequity” and “cycles of harm, trauma, and disinvestment” are deeply connected to the damage of mass incarceration.
Nellis also considers how huge funds for incarceration “could instead support investments in the types of interventions that empower communities,” and the report lists seven legal reforms that are discussed at length in the original report.
- “Abolish death and life without parole sentences, and limit maximum sentences to 20 years.”
- “Limit murder statutes to intentional killings, excluding offenses such as felony murder, and reduce homicide penalties.”
- “Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences and reform sentencing guidelines to ensure that judges can use their discretion to consider mitigating circumstances.”
- “Provide universal access to parole and ensure timely review.”
- “Eliminate consecutive sentences and limit sentence enhancements, including repealing “truth-in-sentencing” and “habitual offender” laws.”
- “Create an opportunity for judicial “second look” resentencing within a maximum of 10 years of imprisonment, regardless of an individual’s offense.”
- “Shift all sentences downward, including by de-felonizing many offenses and decriminalizing many misdemeanors.”
The Sentencing Project is non-profit advocacy organization that focuses on “effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.”