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ICYMI: Second Chances Are Better Than Long Sentences

May 13, 2020 by AFP

Americans for Prosperity Board Member Mark Holden | Morning Consult

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which is largely dormant due to a lack of a quorum, published a study late last month on recidivism that is a blast from the past and straight from the failed “Tough on Crime” era playbook of the 1980s.

Its key finding was that “incarceration lengths of more than 120 months had a deterrent effect” on recidivism.

Ignoring all of the sensible and impactful justice reforms of the past several years, while dismissing the steep price, both fiscally and to families due to long sentences, the Sentencing Commission’s study stands in stark contrast to studies by the National Academy of Science, Pew, the U.S. Department of Justice and Rand Corp., as well as neuroscience studies and re-entry programs to name just a few.

The Sentencing Commission’s findings are simplistic and should be considered an outlier. The commission doesn’t appear to have analyzed the costs and benefits of alternatives to incarceration that could produce the same or better results at a much lower cost to taxpayers and communities. Indeed, the deterrent impact seems to be only for the individual who is incarcerated.

Communities across the country continue to become safer and more just because the majority of states have chosen a “Smart on Crime, Soft on Taxpayers” approach to criminal justice reform. This is an approach based on data and science — not political posturing and race-baiting — that focuses on rehabilitation, restoration, and, redemption.  As a result, crime rates and incarceration rates have fallen at the same time in states that have embraced the reforms the most, resulting in less crime and more prosperity.

Here’s one example: According to the Sentencing Project, New York and New Jersey led the nation by reducing their prison populations by 26 percent between 1999 and 2012, while the nationwide state prison population increased by 10 percent. During these periods of decarceration, violent crime rates fell at a greater rate in these states than they did nationwide. Between 1999 and 2012, New York and New Jersey’s violent crime rate fell by 31 percent and 30 percent, respectively, while the national rate decreased by 26 percent.

As of this writing, over 70 percent of federal inmates have tested positive for the virus, which public health officials have indicated is likely to remain a threat for the foreseeable future, and certainly until the development and implementation of effective immunization.

Especially at this time of crisis, the implementation of more policies and programs that save taxpayers money and improve public safety while empowering people in prison to prepare themselves for success upon release has never been more important.

Click here to read the full op-ed.