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September 29, 2007

Could prison nation be approaching a tipping point?

This lengthy Los Angeles Times article spotlights the growing consensus that "the federal sentencing system is badly out of whack."  The article notes that the Supreme Court's expected work in Gall and Kimbrough, as well as the US Sentencing Commission's proposed new crack guidelines, together can be viewed as a "move to lower the prison terms for drug crimes."  Meanwhile, a leading presidential candidate is talking seriously about sentencing reform (details here and here) and a leading federal judges is talking about the need to check prosecutorial power (details here). 

Because crime politics still seem caustic for progressive sentencing reform, I am not confident that these encouraging developments will produce a ready reverse of two decades of super-tough sentencing policies.  Still, as this strong Boston Globe commentary highlights, even some unexpected politicians are starting to appreciate the societal impact of all our harsh rhetoric and policies:

In national politics, concern about the people who actually go to prison has been drowned out by tough-on-crime rhetoric, but today the issue is getting a hearing from some politicians, and not just hard-left liberals.  On Oct. 4, Congress's Joint Economic Committee will hear testimony from [sociologists Bruce] Western, [Glenn] Loury, and others on the economic and social costs of the prison boom. The session will be chaired by Jim Webb, the gruff, moderate Democratic Senator from Virginia. Cities including Boston and San Francisco are changing their hiring practices to destigmatize prisoners, and there is detectable momentum in Congress toward reducing the extraordinarily harsh minimum sentences for possession of crack cocaine, which disproportionately affect poor black Americans.

Especially in the modern desert of sentencing policies, just an oasis of hope is very refreshing.

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September 29, 2007 at 01:53 PM | Permalink

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Comments

For anyone who missed it, check out that Incarcerex ad. What a hoot.

Posted by: George | Sep 29, 2007 3:29:43 PM

One of the articles asked if Blacks were losing confidence in the rule of law. I doubt if many Blacks had confidence in the rule of law before the civil rights bill was passed and I suppose that some may have gained confidence since then. It appears that in the past ten years that social and economic progress for Blacks has bogged down and more and more barriers to reentry have been put in place to make it more difficult for a Black with a criminal record to get and keep a job. It appears to me that on average are they somewhat are worse off today than they were ten years ago.

Posted by: JSN | Sep 29, 2007 7:05:26 PM

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