States Lead The Way on Sentencing Reform

Post Date: February 18, 2014

(TIME) While the Obama administration has spent the past several months rolling out piecemeal sentencing reforms for non-violent drug offenders, states have already taken a hatchet to mandatory minimum sentencing, according to a new report.

“Backed by decades of research demonstrating that longer sentences have only a marginal effect in reducing recidivism and that many offenders can be safely and more effectively supervised in the community, more and more states are revisiting tough-on-crime sentencing policies in pursuit of a fairer, more cost efficient justice system,” said Peggy McGarry, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice.

A new Vera Institute of Justice report shows that since 2000, 29 states have enacted laws increasing judicial discretion and revising when and how sentences are handed down. Thirty-two bills have been passed within the past five years alone, according to the report. States, the report shows, are becoming champions of reform, acting ahead of both Congress and the Obama administration.

“Fueled by a concern about the growth in prison populations and associated costs, and supported by advocacy groups, practitioners, researchers, policy analysts, and legal organizations, a growing number of state legislatures from Texas to New York have successfully passed laws limiting the use of mandatory penalties,” the report reads. “Mostly in relation to nonviolent offenses, and primarily around drug or drug-related offenses.” (Read more)