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Time served: Prison sentencing policies should be driven by concerns for public safety, not rage and revenge

March 20, 2015
In an editorial, the Toledo Blade urges Congress and state legislatures to consider Marc Mauer's proposal to cap federal prison sentences, with some exceptions, at 20 years.

In an editorial, the Toledo Blade urges Congress and state legislatures to consider Marc Mauer’s proposal to cap federal prison sentences, with some exceptions, at 20 years.

Corrections officials nationwide have urged Americans in recent years to distinguish between people they’re afraid of and people they’re mad at.

Nearly every director of a state prison system has used this mantra. It means that criminal justice and sentencing policies, and the finite resources that support them, should be driven by rational principles such as public safety — not irrational emotions such as rage and revenge. That sound idea should dramatically change the sentencing policies that state lawmakers and Congress enact.

Such policies — not crime — have fueled, over the past four decades, a massive increase in the nation’s prison population, which has quadrupled since the 1970s to more than 2 million people.

In recent years, policy makers and even politicians, facing tight state budgets, have questioned those policies. Ohio and other states have enacted sentencing reforms and focused resources on assisting the 95 percent of the prison population that will eventually be released.

Still, punitive measures that have little to do with protecting the public continue to drive criminal justice policies in this state and elsewhere. Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, has a better idea.

He has called for capping federal prison sentences, with some exceptions, at 20 years. Not only Congress but also state legislatures should consider the idea.

Read the full editorial in the Toledo Blade.

 
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