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San Francisco Called a Model for Ending Mass Incarceration

San Francisco has rapidly reduced its jail and prison populations with a series of “best practices” innovations that have built on California's well-publicized legislative reforms enacted since 2009, according to a research study released today. The study adds its success could serve as a model for the rest of the United States. In the study, entitled “Eliminating Mass Incarceration: How San Francisco Did It,” James Austin of the JFA Institute reports that the combined jail and prison rate of incarceration […]

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U.S.: Home to 30% of the World's Incarcerated Women

Although the U.S. has just 5% of the world’s female population, it accounts for nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated women, according to a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative. Using 2010 U.S. Census data, the report calculated incarceration rates for women in each state and placed them in a global context, comparing the rates of U.S. states with those of countries around the world. Twenty-five U.S. states held the top positions in the data. Incarceration data for each […]

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Glen Martin

When Prisoners Go Home, Punishment Isn’t Over

Last month marked the release of more than 6,000 people from federal prison as a result of the Sentencing Commission's 2014 Reduction of Drug Sentences Act. Thanks to this legislation, tens of thousands more people who are incarcerated could benefit from reductions in their terms over the next few years, and new drug-related sentences will be less than in recent decades. And it came not a moment too soon: we are currently saddled with an outdated, unfair, and bloated criminal […]

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Bill Kelly

Sentencing Reform: A Page From the Old Playbook?

It has been a busy month so far for federal criminal justice reform. On October 1, the Senate unveiled the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. On October 8, the House Sentencing Reform Act was introduced. The bills share much in common and have been portrayed as “comprehensive,” “extensive,” “landmark legislation,” a “game-changer,” and “the most important federal criminal justice overhaul in a generation.” But there are many questions about the mechanics of this legislation, as well as questions […]

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Faith, Crime and the Pope

Pope Francis' historic five-day visit to the U.S. ended nearly two weeks ago, but his thought-provoking challenges to Americans still linger. Perhaps none were more provocative than his comments on criminal justice. On September 24, in an address to a joint session of Congress, he called for global abolition of the death penalty. Three days later, he met with prisoners at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia to expand his message of rehabilitation for those convicted of even the most […]

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Incarceration: An Invisible Tax On The Poor?

Adding a heavy financial burden to people living in poverty, the states and the federal government exact large sums from the families and friends of incarcerated individuals through fees on prison services, such as money transfers and telephone calls, according to an article in the journal Perspectives on Politics, published by the American Political Science Association. In “Taxing the Poor: Incarceration, Poverty Governance, and the Seizure of Family Resources,” authors Mary Fainsod Katzenstein and Maureen R. Waller argue that the […]

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Learning from “Forgotten Prisoners”

Inmates serving long prison sentences have been neglected by both researchers and policy makers despite their potential to be “valuable leaders” within the prison community, write Lila Kazemian and Jeremy Travis in a research paper titled “Forgotten Prisoners” published in Criminology & Public Policy, a journal of the American Society of Criminology. Kazemian, an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Travis, the president of the college, argue that investing in the well-being of “long termers” […]

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Who Built Prison America? Not Ted Kennedy

Happily, “mass incarceration” has fallen out of favor, both among policymakers and academics. As Congress considers bipartisan proposals to roll back harsh federal sentencing laws, scholars are examining the roots of these discredited policies. In her book The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, Princeton University Professor Naomi Murakawa blames, among others, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Before explaining why I disagree with Professor Murakawa's conclusions, I must disclose that I am not a neutral […]

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Stress in Prison

This essay was originally published by The Beat Within, a justice system writing workshop. On a day-to-day basis I try not to let the stress of my environment and circumstances overwhelm me. There are highs and lows, and some days are far better than others. After nearly twelve and a half years of incarceration, I have become numb to a number of things: extreme violence, racism, isolation, and the lack of love to say the least. However, my insensitivity to […]

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How to Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform

A pair of reports by the Sentencing Project highlight significant criminal justice policy changes made during 2014 in 30 states and the District of Columbia, and examines the approaches advocates took to push for those changes. Reforms highlighted in “The State of Sentencing 2014” include new state polices that scale back sentences for low-level drug offenses, reducing barriers to reentry, and eliminating juvenile life without parole. In “State Criminal Justice Advocacy in a Conservative Environment,” researchers examine successful advocacy strategies […]