As another legislative season draws to a close in many states, politicians have mostly avoided the difficult reforms needed to reduce mass incarceration, reports AlterNet. Analysts say the latest new laws focus on sentencing relief for nonviolent, first-time offenders, which Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Foundations calls “the safe, low-hanging fruit of reform.” Meanwhile, the population of lifers continues to grow, and Pew Charitable Trusts projects a 3 percent increase in the overall state prison population over the next four years.
Retroactive sentencing relief for lifers and other hard-time prisoners must be a component of meaningful prison population reductions, experts say. “The tub is full, and the faucet is still flowing at full capacity,” says Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. She said a handful of reform proposals in Congress, including the Smarter Sentencing Act, the Corrections Act and an updated version of the Second Chance Act of 2008, offer hope. The proposed Justice Safety Valve Act, which would allow federal judges to consider sentences below the mandatory minimums, is stuck in a House committee.