After 15 years of criminal justice reforms, it is time for states to begin analyzing results and adopting best practices, the Vera Institute of Justice says in a new report, “Playbook for Change.” Since 2000, at least 29 states have taken steps to roll back mandatory sentences, with 32 bills passed in just the last five years. Most legislative activity has focused on adjusting penalties for nonviolent drug offenses by expanding judicial discretion, limiting automatic sentence enhancements, and revising mandatory minimum sentences.
The Vera report summarizes state-level mandatory sentencing reforms, raises questions about their impact, and offers recommendations to jurisdictions considering similar efforts. Vera says there has been little research into the impact of recent state reforms on incarcerated populations, recidivism rates, or cost. The reports says the impact of reforms to date “may be limited.” As states increasingly look to each other for sentencing reform strategies, data-driven policy development and outcomes research are ever more critical. Vera recommends linking new proposed reforms to research, among other things.