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March 31, 2014 (The Washington Post)
U.S. drug war slowly shifts fire away from low-level users

New Jersey’s new “Good Samaritan law,’’ which immunizes from prosecution people who call 911 to report an overdose even if they are using drugs themselves, is part of an emerging shift in the country’s approach to illegal drugs.

With aggressive enforcement, the number of people jailed nationwide for drug offenses exploded from 41,000 in 1980 to 499,000 in 2011, according to a report from The Sentencing Project, a think tank that advocates criminal justice changes.

Four decades after the federal government declared war on narcotics, the prevailing tough-on-drugs mentality is today giving way to a more nuanced view, one that emphasizes treatment and health nearly as much as courtrooms and law enforcement, according to addiction specialists and other experts. 

March 28, 2014 (Muskogee Phoenix)
An Overwhelmed System

Oklahoma senators should be more concerned with funding an overwhelmed prison system than finding ways to extend the sentences of prisoners.

The Senate Public Safety Committee recently unanimously approved six measures that would increase fines, penalties or sentences for some crimes.

That strikes us as election-year grandstanding.

Crime has always been a problem. But some candidates further their careers by using their constituents’ fears.

The senators on this committee and every legislator who votes yes on these proposals will hold up their vote as proof they are tough on crime.

They also will attack their election opponents for being soft on crime.

Our state’s prison system is overloaded, underfunded and in need of repair.

Oklahoma locks up more women per capita and has the fourth-highest overall incarceration rate in the country, according to data reported by the Associated Press.

March 28, 2014 (The Austin Chronicle)
Point Austin: Incarceration Nation

Grassroots Leadership and The Sentencing Project were in town this week, delivering a presentation on "race, mass incarceration, and the private prison industry" at Huston-Tillotson Uni¬ver¬sity. The two organizations somewhat overlap; Grassroots Lead¬ership focuses on "ending for-profit incarceration," and The Sentencing Proj¬ect publishes research and advocates more generally on the excesses of the entire U.S. prison/criminal justice system.

Together, Christopher Petrella of Grassroots Leadership and Nicole Porter of The Sentencing Project provided an overview of the current U.S. system of incarceration, its institutionalized racism, and various efforts at reform.

March 25, 2014 (Des Moines Register)
Iowa officials wonder: what's fair for juveniles?

Blair Greiman, originally sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a brutal crime when he was 16 years old, has spent more than 30 years in prison and insists he is ready to be released.

Iowa’s parole board sees it differently. It has denied Greiman parole three times since the now-48-year-old was re-sentenced in 2012 to life with the possibility of parole. The board has consistently found that the commission of a crime of rape and stabbing warrants more time behind bars.

Greiman’s resentencing came after the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Florida, made life-without-parole sentences illegal for juvenile offenders who committed non-homicide crimes that carry a life sentence, such as first-degree kidnapping. Iowa has six other inmates who were made eligible for parole by the ruling, and all have denied release by the parole board.

March 24, 2014 (Houston Chronicle)
Texas conservatives lead reassessment of 'war on crime'

There was a time when Texas conservatives like U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a former judge and state attorney general, used to tout their tough-on-crime credentials, much like in the cowboy-themed 2008 campaign video, "Big Bad John."

Now Cornyn and many other Republicans across the country are singing a different tune on crime and punishment - this time invoking costs, redemption and second chances.

"We tried the lock 'em all up and keep them locked up philosophy, but sooner or later many of these folks are going to be released from prison," Cornyn said in an interview. "Traditional criminal justice policy called for rehabilitation to be one of the elements of our criminal justice system, but we kind of forgot about that."

Some traditional conservatives have come to the view that treatment and rehabilitation programs - long the province of liberal prison reformers - cost a fraction of mandating long, hard time, and have shown better results with low-level offenders, particularly drug offenders, who make up about half of all federal inmates.

The upshot is a pair of broadly-backed criminal justice reform bills in the Senate - one with Cornyn's name on it - now being hailed as a major transformation in a failed criminal justice system. Even in an election year of a famously gridlocked Congress, Cornyn and others give the legislation a better than even chance of getting to President Barack Obama's desk this year.