The United States locks up hundreds of thousands of people with excessive and ineffective sentences – yet these people are too often unable to obtain a release from prison even if they have rehabilitated themselves or no longer pose a risk to public safety. Second look sentencing would allow courts to reevaluate a person’s sentence after a significant period of time served in prison and determine if that sentence is still necessary
FAMM supports second look sentencing reforms because people change over time, and we need to be as cost-effective as possible with our finite public safety resources. Locking people up long past the point of necessity makes no one safer.
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Federal Second Look Bills
The Second Look Act (H.R. 3795/S. 2146) is a first of its bill that would allow judges to resentence individuals with lengthy sentences after 10 years of incarceration if the judge finds that the individual is not a danger to public safety and has shown they are prepared for reentry. This bold legislation would allow our courts to relieve thousands of individuals from excessive sentences and reward individuals for their rehabilitation
Second Look in the States
D.C. currently allows minors who were convicted before the age of 18 the opportunity to petition the courts for a sentence modification after they serve 15 years in prison. The District is considering extending this second look eligibility to people who committed a crime before the age of 25.
Under current law, people who commit a capital offense as minors can petition the court for a sentence modification after 25 years, with some exceptions based on prior convictions. In 2020, two bills were introduced in both chambers to lift the restrictions on resentencing for minors with prior records and for some people who were convicted of a crime before the age of 25. These bills did not become law.
The Maryland Second Look Act (HB 323 and SB 591) was introduced in the 2020 legislative session to provide sentence modification opportunities for people incarcerated in Maryland after a significant period of incarceration
Two second look bills were introduced in both chambers of the New York State Assembly in the 2019-2020 legislative session. These bills would allow some people sentenced to at least 10 years to request a sentence modification when they have at least two years left before they are eligible for conditional release. The bills exclude some people based on their offense and time served. Learn more about the bills here: A8588/S7681
HB 4913 was introduced in the 2020 legislative session but did not become law. If passed, the bill would have allowed judges to modify a sentence after the person serves 10 years and is not considered to be a public safety risk or has shown that they’re prepared for reentry, and the interest of justice warrants a sentence modification.
Another way to reconsider sentences that may no longer be necessary to protect the public is through compassionate release, or medical or geriatric release or parole. This allows courts or parole boards to release elderly, ill, or dying prisoners who pose no risk of reoffending. Learn more about how these systems work around the country, and how FAMM is working to improve them.
Another way to reconsider and adjust excessive sentences is through the use of executive clemency, when the U.S. president or a governor grants a commutation of sentence and releases a person from prison, often to fix an unjust sentence or recognize rehabilitation. Learn more about how clemency works and how FAMM is working to improve and expand its use.