Longer sentences are not necessarily better

Screen shot 2012-11-04 at 6.14.22 PMJan. 28, 2013

Last week, I presented the Center for Juvneile and Criminal Justice Center’s Lizzie Buchen, whose article,  “For real prison reform, look beyond the non, non, nons”, argued that research coming out of the PEW Center of the States, supports the position that longer sentences are a major reason for the explosion in prison populations and  the enormous cost of keeping prisoners locked up.  (PDF of the PEW article, “Time Served; The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms”)

This week, Lizzie Buchen, follows with a second article, that argues for a California Sentencing Commission; “Even for violent crimes, longer is not always better” She writes,

“For the offender, longer is certainly not better: As the years go by, inmates often become more distant from their families and communities, less employable, and more deeply ingrained in prison culture (becoming “institutionalized”), all factors that hamper reentry”.

Finally, I would argue that the public’s hunger for safety (1000 sentencing bills passed by the legislature over the past three decades), is a serious problem that we need to come to grips with. How long is enough? Why does California have an almost impenetrable web of sentencing law. California’s sentencing grid is a constantly changing labyrinth of overlapping, entangling, and bewildering law that is truly understood by the few who have taken upon themselves the task of enlightening the criminal justice field. These are unacceptable circumstances that need to be addressed by the governor  and the legislature, through a Sentencing Commission, that can rationally and reasonably review, clarify and simplify our maze of sentencing laws.

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