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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
April 15, 2014
Race & Justice News

School Discipline: Racial Disparities in School Discipline Begin in Preschool

Policing: 911 Dispatch Speed Varies Across Chicago Neighborhoods

Research: Black Children “Are Not Allowed to Be Children”

Annual Review of Implicit Bias Research

Juvenile Justice: Resources for Racial-Ethnic Fairness in Juvenile Justice


April 15, 2014 (MagicValley.com)
Prison Reform and Bridging the Partisan Gap

Jon Alexander writes that the United States “is really good at a few things. First and foremost might just be our ability to lock people up. And with the states annually spending north of $50 billion throwing people behind bars, it’s the American prison epidemic that might bridge the liberal-conservative gap that’s leaving most of American policymaking in the lurch.

“The United states constitutes just 5 percent of the planet’s human population. But American jails and prisons hold 25 percent of all the inmates on Earth, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. That’s right, one-quarter of all the world’s prisoners are locked up in the U.S. About one in every 33 American adults is in jail or prison, a number that’s more than doubled since 1990.

“The reasons are packed full of racial and economic baggage. Recent decades saw policy that sent offenders with a little crack-cocaine in his pocket to prison for years. Someone with the more expensive cocaine might get a slap on the wrist. Crack spent decades as the scorn of poor, often black neighborhoods. Middle-class and wealthy whites do coke. Drug policy is especially relevant here. More people are behind bars because of drugs than murder, rape or any other violent offense.

“In Idaho, the incarceration rate of blacks in 2007 was four-times higher than whites, according to a report from The Sentencing Project. The incarceration rate for Hispanics is double that of whites in Idaho. And that’s in one of the statistically safest states in the nation.


April 14, 2014 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Lawmakers should lift Missouri's lifetime ban on food stamps for ex-offenders

An editorial calls Missouri’s continuation of the lifetime ban on food stamps for people with records of drug felonies “a meat-ax approach to a problem that would be better solved with a scalpel.

“A provision that authorizes the ban was part of the federal welfare reform law approved in 1996. In the frenzy at the time over winning the misbegotten “war on drugs,” the idea got only two minutes of debate after it was introduced on the U.S. Senate floor. One minute for Republicans and one for Democrats. It then was adopted by a unanimous voice vote.

“Because there was so little debate, the motivation behind the idea is unclear. It surely didn’t receive much thought. But coming down heavy on drug-sellers and users was seen as a Good Thing. As if someone preparing to commit a drug crime was going to stop and think, ‘Wait ... if I commit this crime, and get caught, I might lose eligibility for food stamps.’

“Federal and state felony drug ex-offenders were the only group barred from food assistance by the reform laws. There was and is no ban for child molesters, murderers, rapists or other felons who have served their time. Worth noting is that women are disproportionately affected by the ban since they are about twice as likely as men to receive food stamps.


April 14, 2014 (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Felons' rights all over the map

“Felon voting” sounds ominous but in Minnesota, it poses a potent political and civil rights question: When should felons who are trying to rebuild their lives regain their right to vote?

People convicted of a felony lose that right as part of their punishment. The Minnesota Constitution denies the right to “a person convicted of treason or felony, unless restored to civil rights.” In Minnesota, such rights cannot be restored until the person has first completed all the terms of the sentence, including incarceration, probation and parole and supervised release.

The issue, which a conservative group once cited on a freeway billboard as the reason Minnesota was “#1 in voter fraud” (an unproven claim), was back at the Legislature this year. It was predictably volatile. The two sides could not agree on a compromise, so current law remains unchanged.

An advocates’ group known as Restore the Vote-Minnesota sought to restore voting rights when a felon leaves prison or jail, even if he or she is still under supervision. They argued that this will eliminate inadvertent illegal votes by released felons who don’t understand the law, help with felons’ transition to life in their communities and reverse a growing disenfranchisement of black males, who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

Defenders of the current system, including Minnesota Majority, the organization whose political committee put up the “#1” billboard two years ago, says felons are “outlaws” who should not have a hand in creating laws “that the law-abiding live under.” Such voters would, they contend, have an interest in electing lenient judges and prosecutors. 


April 14, 2014 (thinkprogress.org)
The Hidden Price Of Drug-Free Zones

Drug-free zones seem like a common sense solution to what many consider a big problem: to keep drug dealers from selling to children, increase the penalties for drug crimes near schools. States started passing versions of the law in the 1980’s, riding the wave of panic over crack cocaine and the mounting enthusiasm for the War on Drugs.

“Schools have long been the target for drug pushers looking to find new dependent sources to sell their drugs supply,” said former Shelton, Connecticut Mayor Michael Pacowta in a 1989 hearing on the state’s bill. “[This] sends a strong message to the state’s drug dealers to stay away from the children.”

But the zones have ballooned to include entire cities. They now hit almost any urban drug crime with an extra felony, one that was meant to punish dealing to school kids. Meanwhile, drug offenders in whiter, wealthier, spread-out suburbs and towns rarely face the same consequences.

“It comes up in just about every drug case, really,” said New Haven public defender Bevin Salmon. “The intent of the legislation is to target dealers who would sell specifically to children or within a very close proximity to a school, [but] it nets just about everyone. It gives the prosecutor a lot of discretion, a lot of leverage.”