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February 9, 2009

More (overly?) optimistic predictions of reform

Though I have been disappointed that the new era of hope and change inside the Beltway has not found expression in any serious talk of criminal justice reforms, the editorial pages are now filled with hopes for change.  I noted here a recent op-ed saying the "end is in sight" for mass incarceration, and this morning I now see this new New York Times editorial headlined "Rockefeller Laws: An End in Sight."  Here are some snippets:

The New York Legislature finally seems poised to overturn the infamous Rockefeller drug laws.  The impending change comes too late for the tens of thousands of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who wasted away in prison because of mandatory sentencing policies when they should have been given treatment and leniency.  But after years of building support for reform, legislative leaders now have it within their power to make wholesale changes in this profoundly destructive law.... 

Republican lawmakers who represent prison districts and the correction officers’ unions normally block reform. But Rockefeller reform seems almost certain now that that Democrats control the Legislature and the governor’s mansion. That’s welcome news in the state that has squandered many young lives and started the national trend toward mandatory sentencing.

After years of study and blogging, I think the only thing "almost certain" in legislative reform of sentencing law and policy is that very few reforms are ever "almost certain."  (Remember, dear readers, how "certain" many pundits were that Congress would respond to Booker with lots more mandatory minimums.)  Though I certainly hope that the Times is right about reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws, the smart money is always on the status quo and inertia in this arena.

February 9, 2009 at 07:52 AM | Permalink


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Sadly, sadly true, Doug. I put my two cents in on this over at the Faculty Lounge. As a former crim defense attorney, I saw too many of my clients harshly punished by these laws, which everyone seemed to oppose but no one actually had to courage to overturn. So, like you, I will not be holding my breath....

Posted by: Laura | Feb 9, 2009 1:08:11 PM

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