Media ‘Sensationalism’ Drives Support for Long Sentences: Report

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A new report by The Sentencing Project shows that sentencing individuals to multiple decades in prison isn’t an effective way to decrease violent crimes and recidivism rates. While these findings aren’t really new, these results come as criminal justice reform has become a top priority to many Democratic and Republican lawmakers, reports CNN. Kara Gotsch, deputy director at The Sentencing Project told CNN that the organization is trying to “add fuel to the momentum around second-look proposals….to get the false narrative that politicians have convinced themselves…” Gotsch also brings up that the media has perpetuated this notice that those who commit violent crimes will commit them again, even when evidence shows this to not be true. “Policymaking needs to be rooted in research and evidence, not, not anecdotes and fearmongering,” she says.

The report contends that “sensationalism” in media reporting about violent crime contributes to the pressure for longer sentences.  But in most studies of recidivism, people convicted of murder or other violence re-offended less than 10 percent of the time. The Sentencing Project recommendations include standardizing definitions of recidivism to “not carelessly interpret findings on re-offending statistics without digging into either the meaning or accuracy of the statement;” improve housing support, as “the most vulnerable people will fall through the cracks;” and change the way those who decide to release individuals make their decisions through examining the individual and not their conviction.

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