The rate of incarceration in the U.S. per population has increased five times since the 1970s. Stricter laws and enforcement are the main reasons for the high percentage of imprisonment. For years, officials have been trying many methods to lower the rate of incarceration. Parole and probation have been a significant element in sentencing during the past forty years. Currently, sentencing reform has been a hot topic in the media. It is on many of the political candidates’ agenda.
The increases in probation and alternative sentencing have helped reduce incarceration rates over the past five years. However, prison overcrowding still a significant issue that requires an urgent solution. Nineteen states are struggling with prison overcrowding, where the number of inmates is exceeding the prisons’ capacity. By the end of 2014, Illinois led the nation in prison overcrowding with 48,300 prisoners in jails with a total maximum capacity of 32,100 at a rate of %150 and a full design capacity of 28,200 at a rate of 171%. Other states that are leading the overcrowding chart are Ohio (132%), Massachusetts (130%), and Nebraska (128%).
In a public video posted on Facebook in July 2015, President Obama has called for sentencing reform. During the video, President Obama announced that he had commuted sentences of 46 drug offenders who have been imprisoned in federal prisons for ten and twenty years. Fourteen of them were sentenced to life. The president urged the legislators to restore the criminal justice system and implement new sentencing that is fair and just.
On October 1st, 2015, bipartisan senators introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123). The central provision of the bill includes the following:
- Reduce the penalty for drug offenses and remove the three-strike law.
- Expand the safety valve for offenders with criminal histories but exclude violent criminals and drug traffickers.
- Raise the statuary maximum of firearm possession, and lower the mandatory minimum for repeat offenders.
- Increase judges’ discretion in sentencing low-level offenders.
- Create new compulsory minimum sentences for domestic abuse and providing weapons to terrorists.
- Limit solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.
Many states have adopted similar sentencing reform. Conservative governments, including Alabama, Georgia, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah, had implemented sentencing reforms. Georgia has passed drug sentencing reforms while California voters adopted a proposal making nonviolent crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies.
Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics
Image: © Lucy Nicholson / Reuters | Credit: REUTERS