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.”

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