Packed Prisons And The Call For Sentencing Reform

The big new push to bring down America’s world-leading prison population. It’s got traction.

Inmates flash hand signals at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails. (AP)

Inmates flash hand signals at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails. (AP)

One category in which the United States leads the world is in its prison population.  Highest rate of incarceration in the world?  American.  Highest absolute prison population – numbers?  American.  For years now, it’s been too much too handle financially — those millions behind bars.  And, many say, morally – particularly as long “war on drugs” mandatory sentences devastated lives and whole communities.  Now, there’s a bi-partisan push on to reform sentencing laws and draw down incarceration rates. This hour On Point:  the push to bring down America’s world-leading prison population.

– Tom Ashbrook


Brian Mann, Adirondack Bureau Chief for North Country Public Radio, creator of the Prison Time Media Project. (@BrianMannADK)

Mark Osler,  professor of law at the University of St. Thomas. Former Federal prosecutor. (@Oslerguy)

Kemba Smith, criminal justice reform advocate. Served six years in a 24.5 year prison sentence.  Author of “Poster Child.” (@KembaSmith)

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post: Some prosecutors fighting effort to eliminate mandatory minimum prison sentences — “Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s broad effort to eliminate mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and reduce sentences for defendants in most drug cases is facing resistance from some federal prosecutors and district attorneys nationwide . Opponents of the proposal argue that tough sentencing policies provide a critical tool to dismantle drug networks by getting cooperation from lower-level defendants and building cases that move up the criminal chain of command.”

Huffington Post: Obama’s Opening to Mercy — “There is one pure, unadulterated Judeo-Christian virtue in the Constitution, though: The mercy afforded through the pardon power. It is unique among the powers of the executive because neither of the other branches can exercise a check on it. Congress cannot limit the president’s abilities to grant clemency, and courts cannot review them. There is no doubt that the framers intended clemency to involve mercy — Alexander Hamilton described it exactly that way in Federalist 74.”

The Wall Street Journal: Obama to Commute More Drug Sentences — “The new Justice Department initiative suggests the president could end up granting clemency to a much larger group of offenders than he did in December. Mr. Cole said the department is looking for ‘nonviolent, low-level drug offenders who weren’t leaders of—nor had any significant ties to—large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels.’ He said first-time offenders and those without long rap sheets also would be considered.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
May 22, 2015
Crashed cars with airbags deployed are shown to visitors as part of the display of Toyota Motor Corp.'s safety performance standards at the automaker's exhibition hall in Toyota, central Japan. (Shuji Kajiyama/AP)

ISIS rolls on. A TPP vote. Biggest recall ever – airbags. And Letterman’s last bow. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

May 22, 2015
The Barden Bellas, the all-female a cappella group at the center of Pitch Perfect 2. (Richard Cartwright/Universal Pictures via AP)

Pitch Perfect 2 is the number one movie in the country, and it’s over the top on a capella.

May 21, 2015
Ships dock at the piers at the seaport town of Murmansk on the Kola peninsula in Russia. Russian authorities have detained a Greenpeace ship 'Arctic Sunrise' and 27 crew and they face charges when they arrived at Murmansk. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

The Arctic Circle is opening up at a gallop as the ice disappears. Oil, gold, armies, spies. Big opportunities and fear of the consequences.

May 21, 2015
In this photo taken Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, late light falls on Wheeler Hall, South Hall and the Campanile on the University of California campus in Berkeley, Calif. This famously liberal college town is known as the cradle of the Free Speech Movement, but speech isn’t the only thing that’s free here. Whether you’re strolling the redwood-shaded University of California, Berkeley, campus, or slipping across the Oakland border for a dose of Golden State history, you can exercise your limbs and your intellect without giving your wallet a workout. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

With student debt topping $1 trillion, a renewed call for radical change – maybe even free public university tuition. We’ll hear more about it.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
A Former Bike Gang Member Explains "The Life"
Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Larry called in from Lawrenceburg, KY and told us he was once a member of the Pagan’s Motorcycle Club, a mid-Atlantic biker gang. He didn’t sugar coat the facts as he explained the draw of the brotherhood and what makes the outlaw motorcycle corner the underworld go round.

More »
Our Week In The Web: May 15, 2015
Friday, May 15, 2015

We cancel a few hours and suddenly all of you get convinced of a global radio conspiracy! Plus, dragon zoos.

More »
1 Comment
Caller: ‘It Doesn’t Always Turn Out Okay’
Wednesday, May 13, 2015

One caller shares her own story of an extremely premature birth. Her daughter, born at 22 1/2 weeks in 2012, was taken off life support after seven days.

More »