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April 18, 2019

Can and will Kentucky's Gov pioneer a (terrific) new institution by creating a "sentencing integrity unit"?

The question in the title of this post is promoted by this interesting local AP article headlined "Tennessee, Kentucky govs talk up criminal justice reform."  Here is the portion of the piece prompted the post:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday that he has started evaluating his first clemency plea from a death row inmate, who is slated for execution next month.  Lee made the comments at a forum alongside fellow Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky about criminal justice reform at Belmont University's College of Law....

Kentucky hasn't executed any inmates in more than a decade, well before Bevin took office.  But the first-term governor says he has seen no need to wait until he's leaving office to grant pardons to prisoners, as is often customary for governors.  "I think if a person is worthy of being pardoned now, why should they have to wait four years?" Bevin said.  "To me, that's crazy."

Both governors outlined criminal justice priorities and initiatives in an event co-hosted by Men of Valor and Right on Crime.  Bevin said he plans to create a sentencing integrity unit, saying mistakes just get made in sentencing.

He wondered out loud whether to grant prisoners re-entering society a one-year free pass for public transportation.  "I'm convinced something like that could work and that would go a long way at no real cost to anybody to fixing a problem that is a real problem," Bevin said.

For a host of reasons, effective sentencing reform requires structural changes to our criminal justice system as well as substantive ones. And the idea of a "sentencing integrity unit," committed institutionally to identifying and seeking to remedy the "mistakes [that] get made in sentencing," seems to be a terrific structural change. The name suggested for this unit suggests it would be modeled on the many dozens of "conviction integrity units" now in operation around the nation doing critical work seeking to remedy wrongful convictions. (The National Registry of Exoneration has lots of good information on conviction integrity units at this link.).

I sincerely hope Gov Bevin creates a sentencing integrity unit ASAP and that it gets all the political and practical support it will need to be maximally effective.  I also hope Gov Bevin will promote this great idea to other chief executives and other criminal justice officials.  Notably, a number of local prosecutors have done pioneering work in the development of conviction integrity units, and they can have an important comparable role here.  And, as noted in this post last year, Philly DA Larry Kraser and other new prosecutors have been taking an active role reviewing old sentences in various ways.  As I see it, Governors and prosecutors and sentencing commissions and every other official sworn to help achieve justice in a jurisdiction ought to devote at least some portion of time and resources double-checking to make sure past sentences still being served do not become a marker and source of injustice. 

April 18, 2019 at 10:56 AM | Permalink

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