Opinion: Sentencing in U.S. on wrong track; reform needed now

Here’s one example among many others that the ACLU uses to make a point about the need for federal and state sentencing reform and mitigation in many instances.

A man was convicted in Mississippi of selling a mere $40 worth of cocaine. He had two prior convictions on nonviolent drug charges, and there was no violence involved in the cocaine sale

His sentence? Sixty years in a state prison, with his scheduled date of release being after his 101st birthday. That outcome was in lieu of other options more centered on rehabilitation.

The ACLU finds such an outcome ludicrous. So, too, do an increasing number of Americans in every state, who have repeatedly signaled their displeasure with clogged prisons full of inmates serving lengthy sentences for nonviolent and relatively minor crimes.

As the ACLU notes, and as this blog has also informed readers, the length of sentences in the United States has increased by an eye-popping margin over the past 20 years. Many of those sentences are for crimes that a majority of the public views should be dealt with through other measures and initiatives, such as probation, drug courts, work programs and medical treatment. The success rate is higher, both inmates and the general public are better served, and taxpayers save huge amounts of money by avoiding prison-related expenditures.

What the ACLU says is particularly stunning — and spells a conclusion solidly backed by research — is that harsher penalties and mandatory increases in prison terms for repeat offenses do not bring about any clear reduction in crime.

It is sobering to think that the United States houses more people in prison both in real numbers and per capita than any other country in the world.

And for longer periods in a staggering number of cases. There are an estimated 41,000 inmates in the country who are currently serving life terms with no possibility of parole.

We seriously need to rethink that, say advocates for change. It is an imperative that the United States engages in logical and comprehensive sentencing reform.

Source: ACLU, “Extreme Sentencing,” Rachel Myers, Aug. 13, 2012

  • Federal and state sentencing reform and mitigation is a central focus of our firm, which provides diligent representation to people facing criminal charges. To learn more information about our firm and practice, please visit our Atlanta, Georgia, Federal Pleas and Sentencing Mitigation page.