Wednesday, May 27, 2015

sentencing for violent offenders is key to easing prison overcrowding

Legislators everywhere are wrestling with the problem of prison overcrowding. How to reduce our astoundingly high prison population without risking public safety?
Today, nearly everyone acknowledges that our criminal justice system needs fixing, and politicians across the spectrum call for reducing prison sentences for low-level drug crimes and other nonviolent offenses. But this consensus glosses over the real challenges to ending mass incarceration. Even if we released everyone imprisoned for drugs tomorrow, the United States would still have 1.7 million people behind bars, and an incarceration rate four times that of many Western European nations.
Lighter sentences for non-violent offenders will not be enough to make the difference we need. We need to look at how we punish those convicted of violent crimes. 
We could cut sentences for violent crimes by half in most instances without significantly undermining deterrence or increasing the threat of repeat offending. Studies have found that longer sentences do not have appreciably greater deterrent effects; many serious crimes are committed by people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, who are not necessarily thinking of the consequences of their actions, and certainly are not affected by the difference between a 15-year and a 30-year sentence.
Legislators have unnecessarily burdened our judges by eliminating their ability to judge. a result of mandatory sentencing laws, judges often cannot make reasonable distinctions between drug kingpins and street-corner pawns. We ought to empower judges to recognize the difference, and to reduce punishment for run-of-the-mill offenders...
For sex offenders and their families, here is the meat and potatoes of this opinion piece:
Recidivism is also a serious obstacle to reform. Two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years, and half are reincarcerated. But many of the returns to prison are for conduct that violates technical parole requirements, but does not harm others. And much of the problem is that the scale and cost of prison construction have left limited resources for rehabilitation, making it difficult for offenders to find the employment that is necessary to staying straight. So we need to lock up fewer people on the front end as well as enhance reintegration and reduce collateral consequences that impede rehabilitation on the back end. [My emphasis.]
Sex offenders are not mentioned at all but, for those who study sex offender issues, the absence is big and loud. Sex offenders have an exceptionally low recidivism rate. Those who do return to prison are far more likely to return because of a parole violation that does not harm others.

An honest examination of prison overcrowding will acknowledge this.

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