Blame Mass Incarceration on Sentencing Policies, not Mass Cr

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Blame Mass Incarceration on Sentencing Policies, not Mass Cr

Postby admin » Thu May 12, 2016 5:34 am

Blame Mass Incarceration on Sentencing Policies, not Mass Crime
by Alex Stamm, ACLU Center for Justice & Inimai Chettiar, ACLU
June 6, 2012

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Any competent explanation of why our prison population has grown by 700 percent since the early ‘70s will involve a number of factors, including changes in demographics and in the way prosecutors charge defendants. But new research confirms what sentencing reform advocates have been saying for years: we have so many more prisoners because we’re locking people up for longer than ever before.

A report released today by the Pew Center on the States found that the average length of prison sentences has increased by 36 percent since 1990. In Florida, the average prison stay more than doubled. Normally, falling crime and arrest rates would cause prison populations to fall as well; however, because prisoners are now staying longer, our prison population has continued to rise.

Sentence lengths have increased by a combination of front- and back-end changes. On the front end, sentences are longer: the use of mandatory minimums, repeat offender enhancements such as three strikes laws, and life sentences has risen dramatically. On the back end, many states either abolished parole or enacted “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which prevent parole boards from releasing low-risk prisoners before they’ve served 85 percent of their (increasingly long) sentences.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Pew report was their conclusion that, if done properly, we can reduce sentence lengths without compromising public safety. Their analysis of prisoners in Maryland, Florida and Michigan showed that up to 24 percent of nonviolent prisoners “could have been safely released after serving between three months and two years less time behind bars.” Releasing only these nearly-no-risk prisoners alone would reduce Michigan’s prison population by six percent, saving the state $92 million.

In addition to making our prison population larger, our sentencing policy choices have also made it much older. Not only are prisoners serving longer sentences, but the number of prisoners serving very long sentences -– 20 years or more –- has risen as well; many of today’s elderly prisoners were young men and women when they were sentenced.

In a way, this is good news for legislators. We wrote earlier about a Pew public opinion survey which found that most Americans want smart reforms that will reduce our prison population. Now it’s clear that reducing sentence lengths might be the most important step they could take.
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Re: Blame Mass Incarceration on Sentencing Policies, not Mas

Postby admin » Thu May 12, 2016 5:36 am

Time Served: The high cost, low return of longer prison terms
by The Pew Charitable Trusts
June 06, 2012

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Over the past 40 years, criminal justice policy in the U.S. was shaped by the belief that the best way to protect the public was to put more people in prison. Offenders, the reasoning went, should spend longer and longer time behind bars.

Consequently, offenders have been spending more time in prison. According to a new study by Pew's Public Safety Performance Project, the length of time served in prison has increased markedly over the last two decades. Prisoners released in 2009 served an average of nine additional months in custody, or 36 percent longer, than offenders released in 1990.

Those extended prison sentences came at a price: prisoners released from incarceration in 2009 cost states $23,300 per offender -- or a total of over $10 billion nationwide. More than half of that amount was for non-violent offenders.

The report, Time Served: The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms, also found that time served for drug offenses and violent offenses grew at nearly the same pace from 1990 to 2009. Drug offenders served 36 percent longer in 2009 than those released in 1990, while violent offenders served 37 percent longer. Time served for inmates convicted of property crimes increased by 24 percent.

Almost all states increased length of stay over the last two decades, though that varied widely from state to state. In Florida, for example, where time served rose most rapidly, prison terms grew by 166 percent and cost an extra $1.4 billion in 2009.

A companion analysis Pew conducted in partnership with external researchers found that many non-violent offenders in Florida, Maryland and Michigan could have served significantly shorter prison terms with little or no public safety consequences.

The report also summarizes recent public opinion polling that shows strong support nationwide for reducing time served for non-violent offenders.
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