New Report Reveals Nationwide Momentum for ‘Second Look’ Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

By Shriya Kali Chittapuram

WASHINGTON, DC – Recently, The Sentencing Project published “The Second Look Movement: A Review of the Nation’s Sentence Review Laws”, revealing an increasing number of states and jurisdictions have implemented “second look” policies, calling for judicial review of sentences. 

According to the report, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, the Council of the District of Columbia and federal government have deemed lengthy sentences, surpassing life without parole, as unconstitutional for juveniles, while three states have restricted life-without-parole sentences for young adults.

The report also includes recommendations aimed at enhancing consistency and clarity in second look legislation.

Becky Feldman, the Second Look Network director at The Sentencing Project and author of the report, emphasized the significance of this momentum in the U.S., stating, “This new report demonstrates that there is momentum across the United States to pass second look legislation authorizing judges to review sentences after a person has served a lengthy period of time.” 

Feldman added there is a necessity for such legislation in combating mass incarceration, advancing racial justice and enhancing public safety.

The report also maintains the U.S. holds nearly two million individuals in prisons and jails, marking a 500 percent increase in imprisonment over the past half-century. The aging prison population, with nearly one-third of individuals serving life sentences aged 55 or older, amounts to more than 60,000 people.

Kara Gotsch, executive director of The Sentencing Project, noted the inefficiency of lengthy sentences in deterring crime and redirecting resources from effective public safety programs, emphasizing limitations of the existing parole systems, such as executive clemency, in addressing excessive sentences due to their discretionary nature and lack of objective standards. 

Gotsch expressed optimism about the growing adoption of second look legislation as a more effective mechanism for reassessing an incarcerated individual’s sentence and evaluating their readiness for reintegration into society.

In response to the expanding second look movement, The Sentencing Project launched the Second Look Network back in March 2023. This network comprised over 250 members from 100 organizations, public defender offices, and law school clinics nationwide, and additionally the network offers legal representation to individuals serving lengthy sentences. 

The project also is said to facilitate connections among defense teams, provide support, and help equip them to effectively advocate for sentence review and parole representation.

About The Author

Shriya, known as Kali, Chittapuram is in her final year at UC Riverside majoring in Psychology with a minor in Law & Society. Kali has had a huge passion for law since high school, and aspires to attend law school in the near future to study Film & Entertainment law. In her free time, Kali loves to write, draw, and even act in films and theater.

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