Rethinking Punishment for Crimes Deemed Violent
Date:  02-07-2017

Can Americans subscribe to the fact that most people can find redemption?
From the Boston Globe

America’s prison system is embarrassingly immense. That’s one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement in our fractious politics, and the facts back it up. While the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it houses nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Our prison and jail population has quintupled since the 1970s, even as crime rates are near historic lows, and American taxpayers spend some $80 billion per year on incarceration.

Conventional wisdom says that two forces got us here. First, the war on drugs locked up huge numbers of nonviolent offenders. And second, mandatory minimums and other harsh sentencing laws left inmates languishing in prison for decades on end.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a leading voice for criminal justice reform on the right, has railed against the drug war and argued that “it is a mistake to lock people up for 10, 20, or 40 years for youthful mistakes.” And last year, in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton trumpeted an “end-to-end” criminal justice reform plan that would cut mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders in half. There’s just one problem: The story we tell ourselves about mass incarceration is mostly wrong. As Massachusetts and the other states reconsider their laws — Beacon Hill is expected to take up the topic soon —more and more experts are questioning the conventional wisdom, saying it yields modest reforms that are bound to disappoint.

The drug war, they say, is not the major force behind America’s huge prison growth over the last several decades. In fact, less than 20 percent of the country’s 1.5 million prisoners are serving time for such offenses. Free them all tomorrow, and the United States would still have the largest prison population in the world — larger than Russia, Mexico, and Iran combined.

Violent crime is a much more important driver, with almost half of prisoners doing time for offenses like murder and robbery. To make a real dent in mass incarceration, experts say, the country will have to do the difficult work of freeing more of these criminals sooner. Continue reading >>>