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Minimizing The Maximum: Why Prison Sentences Should Be Capped At 20 Years

April 20, 2015
A commentary in The Mark News by Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, makes the case for capping federal prison sentences at 20-years, barring exception circumstances.

A commentary in The Mark News by Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, makes the case for capping federal prison sentences at 20 years, barring exception circumstances. Mauer proposed such a policy in his recent testimony to the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections.

At the deep end, 160,000 people – one of every nine people in U.S. prisons – are now serving a life sentence, and many more are serving “virtual” life sentences of 50 years or more. Such developments are not only inhumane in their disregard for the possibility of individual reform, but are also counterproductive for public safety goals.

To give some perspective to these sentences, consider that in 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in a U.K. case that whole-life sentences without the possibility of review violate human rights standards and must include a parole review provision. At the time of the ruling, there were 49 individuals serving such prison terms, compared to 49,000 serving life without parole in the United States.

In order to achieve a more appropriate balance in approaches to public safety, policymakers in the United States and elsewhere should consider a proposal to limit the maximum term of imprisonment to 20 years, except in unusual circumstances. Such a policy would enhance public safety goals by freeing up resources for more effective interventions.

Read the full commentary at The Mark News.

 
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