In testimony before the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, The Sentencing Project’s Executive Director Marc Mauer called for reforms to federal sentencing structures to create an upper limit of no more than 20 years in prison, barring exceptional circumstances. The New York Times states that “a compelling case” can be made for such a policy since “long sentences do little to prevent crime”:
In short, a sentence that outlasts an offender’s desire or ability to break the law is a drain on taxpayers, with little upside in protecting public safety or improving an inmate’s chances for success after release. Mr. Mauer’s proposal for a 20-year sentence cap, applied retroactively, would free 15 percent of federal prisoners — some 30,000, except for those few whom judges or parole boards might deem unfit to re-enter society.
This is much more aggressive than the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bipartisan proposal in Congress which would lower mandatory minimum sentences only for nonviolent drug crimes. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill keep mandatory minimum sentences of 20 or 25 years for third-time drug offenders, and most of the bill’s provisions would not benefit current inmates.
Of course, for many Americans the prison system is not only about preventing crime by getting criminals off the street, but also about punishment. Long sentences send a clear message that certain acts are unacceptable. Some conservatives who support sentencing reform say that Mr. Mauer’s proposal goes too far, offering a one-size-fits-all leniency to even violent offenders.
Mr. Mauer responds that given the immense scale and cost of incarceration, ‘modest reforms’ would be insufficient. ‘How much punishment is enough?’ he asked. ‘What are we trying to accomplish, and where does redemption come into the picture?’
Read the full article in The New York Times.