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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
September 29, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
California Adopts Fair Sentencing Act (SB 1010). Equalizes Penalties for Certain Crack and Powder Cocaine Offenses.

California Governor Jerry Brown has just signed Senate Bill 1010.  The legislation eliminates the disparity in sentencing, probation, and asset forfeiture guidelines for possession of crack cocaine for sale versus the same crime involving powder cocaine. The law takes effect in January.

September 25, 2014 (The Daily Journal)
How California Stands Apart on Lifer Parole Policies

“Gerald Denson” was convicted of first-degree murder in Los Angeles County in 1983. He was sentenced to 25 years to life plus two years for using a firearm. Four years ago, the California parole board found him suitable for parole based on his record in prison. But Denson remains behind bars, 31 years after his conviction, because California is among a handful of states that allow the governor to reverse the decisions of a governor-appointed parole board. If Denson were serving his sentence in any of 45 other states, he would be a free man.

A quarter of California’s 135,000 prisoners are “lifers” sentenced to serve up to life with the possibility of parole. The national rate is only 7 percent. California has not always been an outlier: In 1990, lifers accounted for 8 percent of the state’s prison population. The state has achieved this distinction because of its sentencing and parole policies, not its crime rates. 

Author: Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D.
September 22, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Race and Justice News

Policing: Protests in Ferguson, MO spur local and federal initiatives 

Reforms: Georgia's incarceration rate for African Americans drops 20% in five years 

Ethnic Disparities: California Latinos face cumulative disadvantage in the criminal justice system 

Probation: Probation is revoked at higher rates for African Americans 

September 16, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Prison Population Reductions Stalled in 2013

U.S. Prison Population 1925-2013

Due to expanding prison populations in the majority of states, the total U.S. prison population grew in 2013, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The 1,574,700 inmates in state and federal prisons at yearend 2013 represent an increase of 4,300 prisoners since the previous year. (The rate of incarceration declined from 480 prisoners per 100,000 population to 478 per 100,000 during the year due to increases in the overall U.S. population.) The new figures come after three years of modest decline from a high of 1,615,500 prisoners in 2009.

“These figures challenge premature and overly optimistic forecasts of the end of mass incarceration,” stated Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. “Tackling the prison juggernaut will require broader reforms to reduce prison admissions and sentence lengths.”

September 15, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Disenfranchisement News

Florida: Voting Rights in Jail 

Wyoming: Opportunity for Reform 

Kentucky: New voting rights bill in consideration for 2015 

International: ECHR rules ban on prisoner voting violates human rights

Voting from behind bars in Ireland