Advocates Say Government Fiscal Crisis Allows For Sentencing Reform


With state and local government finances in peril, now is the time for criminal justice system leaders to come up with creative ways to save money by reducing the 2-million-plus correction national criminal justice system population, speakers said yesterday at the annual Harry Frank Guggenheim symposium on crime in America at New York City-based John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Criminologist Todd Clear of John Jay said, for example, that little harm would be done and lots of taxpayer funds would be saved if all inmates’ sentences were cut by six months. Clear also urged that incentives be created for judges and probation or parole officers to keep convicts out of custody successfully; the incentive in the current justice system now is for officials to imprison more defendants or convicts to avoid risk of reoffending.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner of Boston complained that there has been so much emphasis on avoiding disparity among different judges’ sentences for the same offenses that some judges try to impose the same sentence as the judge in the next courtroom even if it makes little sense. The judiciary needs better research on the effectiveness of various sentencing levels in preventing future offending, Gertner said. Colorado House Speaker Terrance Carroll that his state’s poor fiscal condition was forcing quick legislative decisions on proposals to consolidate prisons and reduce the number of inmates. The Colorado prison system takes up nearly 10% of the state budget, which is projected to experience a $600 million shortfall this fiscal year. Adam Gelb of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, declared it a myth that advocating rational policy on sentencing policy is an act of political suicide. Several states are instituting “smart policies” that include non-prison sanctions without serious backlash against legislators, he said.

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