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SENTENCING POLICY



Changes in sentencing law and policy, not increases in crime rates, explain most of the six-fold increase in the national prison population. These changes have significantly impacted racial disparities in sentencing, as well as increased the use of “one size fits all" mandatory minimum sentences that allow little consideration for individual characteristics.

 

Sentencing Policy News
December 17, 2014 (Los Angeles Times)
Obama commutes sentences of eight prisoners convicted on drug charges

President Obama commuted the sentences Wednesday of eight prisoners serving lengthy terms for drug charges, but it was only a fraction of the 6,561 who applied for his help.

In January, the Justice Department announced an ambitious program to recruit lawyers to help drug offenders seek presidential clemency after being jailed under harsh sentencing laws. The move was in line with Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.’s push to reduce the U.S. prison population, particularly among African Americans serving disproportionally longer sentences for crack cocaine possession.


December 11, 2014
Senators Grassley and Whitehouse Introduce Juvenile Justice Bill

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).  The Grassley-Whitehouse bill would modernize America’s justice system with evidence-based practices for handling troubled youth and provide the federal leadership to promote effective juvenile justice systems. The JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2007 but has not been substantively revised since 2002.

“Under this bill, states and local jurisdictions will make measurable, positive differences in the lives of youth who encounter the juvenile justice system, regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst at The Sentencing Project. “Recent events remind us that efforts toward racial justice are not nearly finished, but this bill moves us closer.”

In 2011, almost 1.5 million American youth were arrested, 95 percent of them for non-violent offenses.


December 9, 2014
The Sentencing Project Submits Recommendations to D.C.’s Mayor-Elect

Following her election as Washington, D.C.’s new mayor, Muriel Bowser has sought public input on important issues facing the District. The Sentencing Project submitted four recommendations for juvenile justice reform:

  • Make aggregate juvenile arrest data available and transparent;
  • Limit the use of arrest for low-level offenses;
  • Prioritize evidence-based programs, and not incarceration, for delinquent youth; and
  • Keep juveniles out of the adult system.

The full testimony can be read here.


December 9, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Statement by The Sentencing Project for Senate Hearing on the State of Human and Civil Rights

The Sentencing Project submitted a statement today for inclusion in the record of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on “The State of Civil and Human Rights in the United States.”  

We commend Chairman Dick Durbin for continuing his examination of the policies and practices that contribute to excessive imprisonment and racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system. In this written statement, we seek to bring attention to the causes of mass incarceration and racial injustice, the failures of mandatory minimum penalties, and the deeply problematic policy of felony disenfranchisement.


December 4, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
On Eric Garner’s Death and the Need to Re-Envision Policing

People protesting the non-indictment in the killing of Eric Garner

Eric Garner’s tragic death at the hands of a New York City police officer and a grand jury’s decision to not indict have heightened concerns about police practices and accountability. Coming in the wake of a police officer’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and subsequent non-indictment, Americans are outraged and demanding change. “Black lives matter” has become the rallying cry of activists and is being echoed by political leaders including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio has noted: “It’s a phrase that should never have to be said, it should be self-evident, but our history requires us to say that black lives matter.”

Black and white Americans experience different police practices. They encounter police at different rates and for different reasons, and they are treated differently during those encounters. Racially biased use of discretion – either intentional or unintentional – is one cause of the disproportionate police contact that is not explained by differences in crime rates. Another cause is policies, such as “stop and frisk” and “broken windows policing,” that place people of color under greater scrutiny with the rationale of circumventing serious crimes. Officer Darren Wilson stopped Brown for jaywalking. Officer Daniel Pantaleo and his colleagues approached Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes.

There is limited evidence to support the efficacy of targeting such petty crimes, while there is great cause for concern about the impact. Excessive police encounters erode trust and cooperation with the police, contribute to the over-representation of people of color in prisons and jails, and lead to the disproportionate rate of fatal police encounters among unarmed African American men. We must work to correct all of these problems.

Recommended reading: "Broken Windows Policing Doesn't Work," on Slate.