Sixty-four current and former prosecutors, attorneys, law enforcement officers, and other judicial leaders from 26 states and the District of Columbia signed a group statement titled “Joint Statement on Sentencing Second Chances and Addressing Past Extreme Sentences” in April of this year. The statement calls for leaders in law enforcement nationwide to put an end to mass incarceration and the imposition of extreme sentencing measures.
The statement says that three decades of research has proven that the “get-tough-on-crime” laws of the ’70s and ’80s have not acted as a deterrent to crime or promoted public safety. “Our country currently has more people serving life sentences than the total number of people who were incarcerated in 1970,” according to the statement. The cost of keeping all of these people in prison today is over $16 billion each year, most of whom are elderly people who pose little or no risk to community safety.
The statement urges the federal government to adopt measures that would reduce extreme sentencing and encourage more “humane and evidence-based sentencing.” It notes that many states have severely restricted or completely eliminated parole or other opportunities for early release, even when prisoners have demonstrated major steps toward rehabilitation. This increase in incarceration has resulted in massively overcrowded systems, bloated prison budgets, depleted community resources, and has prevented funds from being used to enhance community safety and well-being. It has devastated families and destroyed lives.
Data show that individuals who commit a crime (even serious crime) only continue to do so between five to ten years of their original infraction. Recidivism drops to nearly zero percent after the age of 40. The joint statement argues that allowing sentencing review after a period of 15 years or so would benefit not only the prisoner but the surrounding community as well. “There is no reason to conclude that the commission of a crime—no matter the offense—must define a person forever,” it reads.
The statement concludes by recommending four measures to help reduce the current overcrowding and govern future sentencing:
(1) Institute some measure of sentencing review for those who have served a significant portion of their sentence.
(2) Create sentencing review units to monitor sentencing practices and their effectiveness.
(3) Expand the use of compassionate release for the elderly, terminally ill, disabled, or those with qualifying family circumstances.
(4) Install supervisor approval for those few cases that may require extended sentencing.
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