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October 17, 2008

"Bold new idea: Make punishment fit the crime"

The title of this post is the title of this op-ed appearing in the the Seattle Post Intelligencer.  Here is the start of a potent piece:

The U.S. Sentencing Commission sets the parameters federal judges are obliged to follow in sentencing convicted felons. It has long been, in effect, the hanging judge of the federal criminal justice system, backing long, inflexible sentences and making judicial discretion an oxymoron.

But, surprise, last year the commission defied the Bush administration by reducing crack-cocaine sentences to reflect those for powder cocaine, easing a disparity that was a major source of the wildly disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans.  What's more, it boldly applied the new standard retroactively.  And now the commission is studying possible sentencing alternatives to imprisonment, a move toward making recommendations to Congress.

About time. We have become the world's champion jailer, imprisoning a far higher percentage of our people than any other industrialized nation, as if Americans were somehow a uniquely criminal people.  The national prison population is nearing 2.5 million, with some 200,000 of those in federal lock-ups.  Another five million are under criminal-justice control -- probation, parole and so on. The roots of this ugly flowering are in the law-and-order politics that started in the 1970s and lasted into the '90s.

October 17, 2008 at 07:06 AM | Permalink


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