Oregon Chief Justice Paul De Muniz and Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff have called on President-elect Barack Obama to back “major change in state and federal sentencing practices” that have resulted in the U.S. imprisoning a larger percentage of its population than any other country, reports the St. Louis Beacon. The judges said it is ironic that the U.S. is the incarceration leader at a time when it is “hoping to regain respect as leader of the free world.”
“We use prisons as addicts use drugs,” the judges wrote. “They don't do what the public expects them to do, so we use them even more, with the result that we need more because prison makes many inmates worse when they return to their communities.” They said federal sentencing guidelines are “blind to risk” and “ultimately ignore public safety as an objective.” Many sentencing policies “utterly conceal the truth that federal and most state guidelines have nothing whatever to do with public safety, and result in misallocation of prison resources as measured by public safety outcomes,” the judges argued. Several states have made progress in sentencing reform, they said, including Missouri, Oregon, Wisconsin and Virginia. Virginia has cut its number of new prisoners by one-fourth without an increase in crime. It has accomplished the reduction by assessing the risk of new inmates.