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Monday, 9 November 2015

Why Can't We End Mass Incarceration?

Comment: Excellent article from May of 2015.


The U.S. federal-prison population swelled from 24,000 prisoners in 1980 to 219,000 in 2013. And federal prisons are just the tip of the iceberg — factor in state prisons and local jails, and there are 2.2 million people locked up in this country. 

The U.S. Sentencing Commission ... is charged with setting and adjusting the detailed schedule of penalties for those convicted of federal crimes. In April 2014, the commission approved a reduction in sentences for certain drug crimes going forward. 

In his final months in office, President Obama has focused more on the need for criminal-justice reform. He has used the executive power of clemency to commute some of the most egregiously unfair sentences of 89 federal drug convicts. 

But a handful of pardons don't amount to much when there are hundreds of thousands of federal prisoners. Nearly half of federal inmates are serving time for drug crimes. Of those, 60 percent were subject to mandatory minimums when they were sentenced.  

Stephanie George was a 26-year-old mother of three when she was convicted on drug-conspiracy charges because the man she was dating had kept drugs and money in her house. Under the federal three-strikes-and-you're-out law, she was sentenced to life in prison. George was locked up nearly 18 years before Obama commuted her sentence. One of her sons died shortly before her release. She says she doesn't think most politicians consider the costs a mandatory-minimum sentence brings. 

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