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Corrections Reform Isn't Just About Cutting Prison Populations

Population data just released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) show a continued modest decline in the number of people supervised in U.S. correctional systems, averaging a 1 percent decrease annually from 2007 to 2014. This reduction is somewhat greater than the decline in the prison population for this period, and in large part it reflects changes in the number of people under probation supervision. While in recent years there has been an increasing focus on challenging mass incarceration, […]

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Fed Drug Offenders ‘Average 11 Years in Prison Under Mandatory Minimums’

More than three quarters of individuals serving drug offenses in federal prisons were convicted of an offense that carries a mandatory minimum penalty, and in 59 percent of those cases the average expected time served was 11 years, according to a data brief released Thursday by the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Correction and the Urban Institute. That was almost twice the penalty given drug offenders who were not convicted under the mandatory-minimum rules. “Long federal drug sentences are […]

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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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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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N.Y. Judicial Chief: ‘Return Judging to Our Judges’

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ UPDATE: Wednesday, May 27, 2015 New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said today that a proposal to eliminate indeterminate sentencing in the state “will benefit victims and offenders.” “The crux of the proposal is the elimination of indeterminate sentencing for most crimes in our state,” Lippman said at the proposal’s announcement Wednesday at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “With these reforms, we will return judging to our judges, where it properly belongs.” […]

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Ex-Judge Urges MA to ‘Escape Willie Horton’s Shadow’

Writing in the Boston Globe, Nancy Gertner, a Harvard law professor and former U.S. judge, says criminal justice in Massachusetts still is shadowed by the legacy of Willie Horton, the killer who raped a woman during a furlough in 1986. Many have blamed Gov. Michael Dukakis's failed presidential bid that year on publicity surrounding the case. Less often discussed is how far Horton's crime set back criminal justice reform in Massachusetts — and still does to this day, Gertner says. […]

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More Sex Abuse Victims Are Holding Colleges, Universities To Account

More victims of sexual assault in colleges and universities are going public, more of them are filing formal federal complaints, and a new network of activists is making shrewd use of the law and the media, reports the New York Times. Last week, a White House task force recommended practices for measuring the problem, educating students and treating both accuser and accused. While there is scant evidence that sexual assault is more or less prevalent than in the past, the […]

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Dems, GOP Agree on 1 Thing: Sentencing Reform

For decades the Republican Party prided itself for being tough on crime, often putting Democrats on the defensive by pushing for longer, mandatory sentences for convicts, says the Los Angeles Times. But now, as the U.S. Senate prepares to take up far-reaching changes to federal sentencing and parole guidelines, some conservative Republicans are flipping sides, driven by concerns about the rising cost of caring for prisoners and calls for compassion from conservative religious groups. A surprising number of high-profile Republicans […]

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Obama Fixes ‘Kafka’ Sentencing Goof With Clemency

President Obama this week cut prison time for a drug convict sentenced to more than three extra years because of a typographical error in a court order, reports the Associated Press. Ceasar Cantu is only the 10th inmate Obama has granted a commutation, and his case was unusual. He pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering after prosecutors said he used his Houston trucking company to help move tons of marijuana from Mexico through Texas and into Virginia. He […]

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U..S. Sentencing Panel Seeks Reduction Of All Federal Drug Penalties

The U.S. Sentencing Commission yesterday proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines that include an across-the-board reduction in the sentences recommended for all drug offenses, says Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog. “The Commission's proposal reflects its priority of reducing costs of incarceration and overcapacity of prisons, without endangering public safety,” said its chair, Judge Patti Saris. A commission study of offenders who got a reduced sentence under a similar two-level decrease […]