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Following a surge in many types of violent crime in 2020 and 2021 that has only recently begun to ebb in some places, many state legislatures, especially in southern states, have passed or are considering policies that are designed to result in longer periods behind bars for those convicted of serious violent crimes. Policy proposals include imposing or lengthening mandatory minimums, removing parole eligibility in certain cases, and requiring that a high percentage of the sentence be served behind bars (often referred to as “truth-in-sentencing”). However, there are also countervailing trends in states like California. Determining the right approach to sentencing and time served raises several questions:
What is the proper balance between uniformity and discretion and the degree of influence exercised by legislators versus prosecutors and judges?
To what degree is the focus on the length of the sentence or period of incarceration, as opposed to certainty that a significant percentage of the sentence, whatever its length, be served behind bars?
Given that elderly individuals have the lowest recidivism rates, would we be shortchanging public safety if we allocate too much prison space to those who committed a heinous crime decades ago as opposed to those who are in the midst of a crime spree involving less serious offenses and have failed at diversion and probation? How do we know whether a jurisdiction is efficiently allocating correctional resources to maximize public safety or perhaps is spending too much or too little on corrections?
Should the inquiry at parole solely be a forward-looking one which assesses future risk, as is the case in Michigan due to reforms a few years ago, or should paroling agencies also consider whether further punishment is warranted?
What are the merits of concurrent versus consecutive sentences in light of the Lara case that was argued before the Supreme Court in March? How does this relate to whether the primary goal of incarceration is punishment, incapacitation, or rehabilitation?
Dr. Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Co-Director of Reasearch, The Sentencing Project
Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director & General Counsel, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation
[Moderator] Marc Levin, Chief Policy Counsel, Council on Criminal Justice and Senior Advisor, Right on Crime
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