Feeling ‘Dirty’ About Sentencing

Retired Federal Judge Schira Scheindlin has said mandatory-minimum requirements made her feel “dirty.” Other judges have joined the chorus of justice reformers who complain rigorous sentencing guidelines are unfair. But are they addressing the wrong problem?

‘Sentencing the Crime, Not the Person’

Families Against Mandatory Minimums celebrates its 25th anniversary this week. Julie Stewart, FAMM’s founder, tells TCR we still have a long way to go in changing America’s approach to punishment.

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, less attention has been devoted to examining corrections populations overall. The new BJS report underscores the importance of adding this dimension to a reform strategy. The overall decline in corrections populations is encouraging but, as with the prison population figures, it's clear that the national trends remain quite modest.

The Criminal Justice Stories (& People) That Really Counted in 2015: You Choose

What were the most significant criminal justice stories and trends in the U.S. during 2015? Which person had the most significant impact? As the country heads into the 2016 presidential election campaign, criminal justice has carved out a prominent place in the national agenda for the first time in many election cycles. The news headlines have been dominated by the debate over American policing, and by terrorism at home and abroad. At the same time, lingering issues about prison overcrowding, court reform and capital punishment, to name a few, continue to absorb our attention.

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 about the longer-term consequences—such as their impact on federal incarceration levels, racial disparities in sentencing and, importantly, recidivism.

Campaign 2016 and Criminal Justice

Next year's presidential contest is now well underway. With Hillary Clinton, the acknowledged frontrunner for the Democrats, officially in the race, and a slew of contenders vying (or likely to vie) for the Republican nomination, across a spectrum ranging from Jeb Bush to Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, it's a good time to begin asking where each of them stand on the criminal justice challenges facing the country. In our system, most of the gritty justice issues, from overcrowding in jails and prisons to police use of force and errant prosecutors, are dealt with on a state and local level—not by the feds. Nevertheless, leadership in the White House matters: it establishes priorities, frames the national agenda and sets a tone. And we clearly need leadership today.

The Message of California's Prop 47

The dramatic reductions in criminal sentencing approved by California voters this week represented another groundbreaking step in the movement to ease the “tough on crime” approach that has characterized the state—and the nation—for decades. But will the passage of Proposition 47 have the game-changing impact on other states that some observers hope? “The fact that it passed by such a wide margin [over 58 percent], sends a strong message to policymakers across the country that people are sick and tired of the old debate between treatment and punishment,” says Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project (PSPP), which works with states around the country that are considering changes in sentencing laws. “They now know that there are other solutions that will provide less crime at lower cost; (and) that will give policymakers across the country greater comfort in examining their own laws.” But, as Gelb points out, several states have already traveled the same route over the past several years.