Marc Maurer on Why New Presidential Administration Should Consider a 20-Year Cap on Most Sentences
Date:  01-12-2016

Executive Director of the Sentencing Project reveals that one in nine prisoners is serving a life sentence
On April 1, 2015 Reentry Central posted an article by Marc Mauer, the Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, on why he felt that in most circumstances prison sentences should be capped at 20 years. Recently Democracy: A Journal of Ideas included Mauer’s plan for a 20 year cap in its “16 for 16 Symposium,” as one of 16 policy proposals the new presidential administration might take into consideration.

In case you missed Maurer’s article last year we are featuring Democracy Journal’s article for your consideration.

A 20-Year Maximum for Prison Sentences

BY Marc Mauer

From Democracy Journal Winter 2016, NO. 39

“Clarence Aaron was a 23-year-old college student from Mobile, Alabama, with no criminal record. In 1992, he introduced a classmate whose brother was a drug supplier to a cocaine dealer he knew from high school. He was subsequently present for the sale of nine kilograms of cocaine and was paid $1,500 by the dealer. After police arrested the group, the others testified against Aaron, describing him as a major dealer, which led to his being sentenced to three terms of life imprisonment.

Unfortunately, in the era of harsh mandatory sentencing laws, stories such as Aaron’s are all too familiar. The injustice against Aaron was eventually recognized and, in 2013, after 20 years in prison, he became one of a relative handful of federal prisoners to receive a sentence commutation from President Obama. Cases such as his have fueled momentum for criminal justice reform in recent years, with major presidential candidates in both parties calling for a substantial reduction in our prison population, due to a U.S. rate of incarceration that’s five to ten times that of other industrialized nations. A growing consensus has developed around the idea that the “war on drugs” has relied far too heavily on excessive punishments, and that treatment interventions for substance abusers are both more effective and compassionate than long-term imprisonment.

But if a prison-reduction strategy is focused primarily on drug policy reform, we will be sorely disappointed in the results. Of the 2.2 million people behind bars in America today, nearly half a million are incarcerated for a nonviolent drug offense. So even if we were to release that entire group, we would still have a rate of incarceration far higher than that of any comparable nation.”

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