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January 31, 2021

Prison Policy Initiative sets out long list of "Winnable criminal justice reforms" for state systems

Prison Policy Initiative has produced this effective ten-page document titled "Winnable criminal justice reforms: A Prison Policy Initiative briefing on promising state reform issues for 2021."  I count well over two dozen notable suggested reforms on the list, each of which comes with helpful links and additional information.  Check out the whole document, and here are two of the many sentencing items to whet appetites:

Make it easier to change excessive prison sentences

Problem: Nationally, one of every six people in state prisons have been incarcerated for a decade or more. While many states have taken laudable steps to reduce the number of people serving time for low-level offenses, little has been done to bring relief to people needlessly serving decades in prison.

Solutions: State legislative strategies include: enacting presumptive parole, second-look sentencing, and other common-sense reforms, such as expanding “good time” credit policies. All of these changes should be made retroactive, and include people convicted of both violent and nonviolent offenses.

Example bill: The Second Look Act of 2019 https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2146, which proposed to allow people to petition a federal court for a sentence reduction afer serving at least 10 years.

More information: See our reports Eight Keys to Mercy: How to shorten excessive prison sentences https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/longsentences.html and Reforms Without Results: Why states should stop excluding violent offenses from criminal justice reforms https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/violence.html.

Repeal or reform mandatory minimum sentences and automatic “sentencing enhancements”

Problem: Mandatory minimum sentences and similar automatic sentencing structures like “sentencing enhancements” have fueled the country’s skyrocketing incarceration rates, harming individuals and undermining our communities and national well-being, all without significant increases to public safety.

Solutions: The best course is to repeal these laws so that judges can craft sentences to fit the unique circumstances of each crime and individual, but where that option is not  possible, states should adopt sentencing “safety valve” laws, which give judges the ability to deviate from the mandatory minimum under specified circumstances.

Model and example bills: Several examples of state and federal statutes are included in Families Against Mandatory Minimums’ (FAMM) Turning Off the Spigot: How Sentencing Safety Valves Can Help States Protect Public Safety and Save Money https://famm.org/wp-content/uploads/State-Safety-Valve-Report-Turning-Off-the-Spigot.pdf; see also American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Justice Safety Valve Act https://www.alec.org/model-policy/justicesafety-valve-act/

More information: See FAMM’s Turning Off the Spigot: How Sentencing Safety Valves Can Help States Protect Public Safety and Save Money and our Geographic Sentencing Enhancement Zones page https://www.prisonpolicy.org/zones.html.

January 31, 2021 at 03:42 PM | Permalink


I couldn't agree more. I am a prime example that small time can straighten someone out. I had a drug charge at 24, went to jail for 62 days (90 day sentence) and yes my good time was almost as much as a year in Federal Prison. When I got out, I got my act together and now own my home, 2 vehicles and pretty much whatever I want, being an Engineer. Most people grow out of crime as they stroll into their late 30's. If they commit another drug crime, then throw the book. Not on the first drug charge. Also enhancements, throw them out. The point system? illegal at best, people have already paid their debt to society...why in the Federal system are they penalized for that again (most aren't even serious charges or have anything to do with their current drug charge) and re-doing the time again because of the points?
Also, just a question...if someone hasn't traveled over a state or Country line during a drug crime, why is the Feds involved at all? Feds, go do your own jurisdiction of crimes. I know it's really easy for you to charge people with Ghost Dope, but seriously, do what you are being paid for by me and my fellow Americans, and that's finding actual evidence. The Federal Gov. Makes me sick with this practice, everyone needs to be sick over it because one day? It could be you being arrested for words or worse, your children. Wake up America and google Ghost dope, all it takes is a friend to get arrested for drugs and you can be looking at 15 years without ever doing anything wrong and there is nothing you can do. -Great article S.L.A.P

Posted by: Lisa Sciretta | Jan 31, 2021 6:41:30 PM

BTW- Serving 10 years is way too long, make it 3 and let the judges weed out the people he feels learned their lesson, 10 years is too long for someone to get out and get their lives in order, n ne will hire them with 10 years missing. State or Fed.

Posted by: Lisa Sciretta | Jan 31, 2021 6:44:24 PM

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