While criminal justice reforms are making some headway, excluding people convicted of violent offenses from these reforms is limiting what can be accomplished, according to a recent report from Prison Policy Initiative (PPI).
So far almost all state reforms have “focused only on those convicted of nonserious, nonviolent, and nonsexual offenses — the so-called ‘non, non, nons,’ ” said the PPI report.
Yet across the country, nearly 1 million people “are locked for violent offenses,” according to PPI. Over 40 percent of prison and jail populations combined are incarcerated for these offenses.
“The staggering number of people incarcerated for violent offenses is not due to high rates of violent crime, but rather the lengthy sentences doled out to people convicted of violent crimes,” said the PPI report.
These lengthy sentences are relics of the “tough on crime” era, according to PPI.
The number of people in state prisons for violent offenses increased by more than 300 percent between 1980 and 2009, when it reached its peak of 740,000 people nationwide.
In the last two decades, “almost all of the major criminal justice reforms passed” explicitly exclude people accused and convicted of violent offenses.
PPI identified 75 criminal justice reforms in 40 states and at the federal level that exclude people convicted of violent offenses from reforms.
One example given was in 2011 Louisiana passing H 138, a geriatric parole bill allowing parole consideration for people who have been incarcerated for at least 10 years and are at least 60 years old. However, it excludes people convicted of violent or sex offenses, which accounts for two-thirds of the people who meet the age and time served requirements.
According to PPI, “The current response to violence in the United States is largely reactive, and relies almost entirely on incarceration, which has inflicted enormous harms on individuals, families, and communities without yielding significant increases in public safety.”
The report suggests that states “invest more heavily in violence prevention strategies that will make a more significant and long-term impact on reducing violence, which, again, reflects what most victims of violent crime want.”
The PPI report says long sentences show no evidence of deterring violent crime.
These “tough on crime” policies “reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of violence. They are grounded in the belief that lengthy incarceration is an effective deterrent or containment strategy for violence, despite years of evidence to the contrary, and a desire for retribution,” said the report.
To read the report in full, click here.