By Paloma Sifuentes
WASHINGTON, DC – A task force on long sentences, co-chaired by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and former U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy, this week released a report called How Long is Enough, that discusses the strategies to enhance public safety and enhance judicial discretion in sentences.
The task force released 14 recommendations to long prison sentences, those that are 10 years or longer.
The first recommendation is to utilize the savings from the reduction of prison terms to programs that address preventing violence and the trauma that follows the victim, families, and the community.
The recommendations 6 and 8 address the factors judges must consider when imposing long term sentences such as criminal history, risk factors within the community.
Recommendations 11 and 12 discusses expanding sentence reduction credits and applying a “second look” sentence review opportunities.
Recommendations 3 and 13 focus on utilizing programs in prison that would prevent recidivism once incarcerated individuals get released such as, behavioral health services.
Recommendations 2, 4 and 9 strengthen services for crime victims and survivors by enforcing their rights and creating restorative justice opportunities.
“When crime rates increase, so do calls for stiffer sentencing, often without regard to the effectiveness or fairness of those sentences. Criminal justice policy should be based on facts and evidence, not rhetoric and emotion, and we should be laser-focused on strategies that make the most effective use of our limited resources,” argues the task force.
The members within the Task Force for Long Sentences range from incarcerated individuals, attorneys, law enforcement to crime victims/survivors. The report was a year-long analysis and examines the effect on long term sentences in several aspects.
An analysis by the Council on Criminal Justice stated that there was a 46 percent incline from 2005 to 2020 for individuals serving a sentence longer than 10 years.
Although murder defendants were likely to receive a long term sentence, 20 percent of those serving long term sentences were convicted of drug offenses.
Task Force Director John Maki stated, “Through their painstaking deliberations, our members rose to the challenge and produced a set of recommendations that recognize our need to advance public safety while respecting the humanity of those most affected by long prison terms.”
The Task Force commissioned and reviewed research on a wide range of topics including.
The public safety Impact of shortening lengthy prison sentences. It is estimated that reducing long terms would result in small increases in arrest and nonviolent offenders or weapons.
The impacts of long sentences on public safety find there are crime reducing effects, but are limited and vary by offense.
International comparisons showed that the U.S. remains a global outlier in its use in long prison sentences compared to Europe.
Trends in the use of long prison sentences analyzes state prison admission from 2005 to 2019 and breaks down the trend by race, sex, and age.
Factors affecting time served in prisons examined how parole and other “back end” discretion decisions influence how long people actually serve behind bars.
Perspectives of crime victims, formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, have offered views on the role of long term sentences in achieving justice.