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June 25, 2016

Will party platforms include commitment to reduce mass incarceration (and does it really matter)?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Politico article , headlined "Civil rights groups push Dems, GOP to include sentencing reform in their platforms."  Here are excerpts:

An influential coalition of civil rights groups pushing for criminal justice reform is pressuring both the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee to include the issue in their respective party platforms this summer.

In a new letter, the organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the Urban League and the Brennan Center for Justice — argue that after decades of pushing tougher crime laws, both Democrats and the GOP need a “bold break” toward policies aiming at easing incarceration rates.

“As you convene to set your respective policy agenda, we urge you to include reducing mass incarceration, while increasing public safety, as part of your party platforms,” the groups wrote in the letter, addressed to the respective party chairs and platform committee leaders and provided to POLITICO in advance of its release.

Among the policies called for by the pro-criminal justice reform groups: Revising sentencing laws so the “punishment is proportional to the crime and no longer than necessary to achieve rehabilitation and deterrence,” helping to reduce recidivism rates by promoting job training and educational programs for former inmates, and using federal funds to reward states for policies that reduce both the prison population and crime rates.  “While more is needed to fully achieve reform, including these measures in the platforms will signal a significant shift in national policy,” the organizations wrote.

Criminal justice reform has been a lingering issue in Washington, with both President Barack Obama and key Republican leaders in Congress saying they want to pass legislation overhauling sentencing laws and other prison reforms this year.  But the issue has also been a divisive one, particularly within the Senate Republican Conference, and its prospects are growing dimmer -- particularly in a contentious election year.

June 25, 2016 at 10:07 AM | Permalink



I'm curious if you think there is a connection between the recent spike in homicides and the recent decrease in the severity of sentencing.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Jun 25, 2016 12:41:41 PM

Given that states/cities with clear homicide spikes do not match up all that closely with states/cites that have been very involved with sentencing reforms, I struggle to see a basis for a close causal link between sentencing reform and homicide spikes.

I suspect reduced funding for police as part of post recession budget-tightening, and perhaps some post-Ferguson echoes, and the heroin epidemic are more likely explanatory factors. But we really need a few more years of data and A LOT more analysis before it will be possible to draw any firm conclusions and/or to adjust policy plans accordingly.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 25, 2016 5:33:54 PM

I think you are probably correct, Professor.

And, I might add, the "real economy" just isn't that good, which always seems to drive inner-city crime.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Jun 26, 2016 10:42:26 AM

My opinion only: If someone has caused harm to another individual, they should go before an informed jury and sentenced accordingly with injured party/ relative present.

Posted by: LC in Texas | Jun 26, 2016 12:06:52 PM

I have only seen a news summary of the draft Democratic platform, but it apparently does include some discussion about incarceration rates.

Posted by: tmm | Jun 30, 2016 11:02:50 AM

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