Unlikely Political Alliance Could Change Sentencing Laws

“While a range of judges, prosecutors and public defenders have for years raised concerns about disparities in punishment, it is this alliance that may make politically possible the most significant liberalization of sentencing laws since President Richard M. Nixon declared war on drugs.” — Matt Apuzo, The New York Times

Screenshot 2014-03-04 11.27.57That’s how the New York Times characterized the blossoming support for sentencing reform among U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Libertarian-minded Republicans, like Rand Paul. While General Holder is focusing on sentencing reform as a civil rights issue (because of its disproportionate impact on minorities), Sen. Paul argues that long sentences are a fiscal issue — ineffective at fighting crime and expensive to taxpayers.

“This is the definition of how you get bipartisan agreement,” Mr. Paul said in an interview. “It’s not splitting the difference. It’s finding areas of common interest.”

You can read the entire NYT’s article here: Holder and Republicans Unite to Soften Sentencing Laws

The Punishment Imperative

One of the country’s leading criminologists believes more political partnerships like this are imminent, as he argues the end of mass incarceration is upon us.  In his newest book, “The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America,” Todd Clear, the Dean of Rutgers University-Newark School of Criminal Justice, maintains that this sea change has been sparked by the fact that local municipalities and states have been burdened with the rising cost of maintaining and building expensive correctional facilities.  Additionally, he cites that the “tough punishment” solution that caused our country’s prison population to explode was based on “almost no hard evidence” that it actually lowered crime.

Clear points to the political and social unrest of the 1960’s and Richard Nixon’s “law and order” presidential campaign as moments that defined the way we have come to view crime and punishment in the U.S. In fact, Clear claims that through the decades, tough sentencing and mass incarceration became “the solution” for both political parties and the “tough on crime” response has dominated our culture … until now.

“… something else that convinces me is that the public conversation is no longer about getting tough on this or that. You don’t see politicians proposing new expansions of their prison systems. Mayors aren’t running on get-tough policies. Other claims are now being made on federal dollars. The argument that was previously being made was sort of a political-cultural argument. And you don’t hear that anymore.”

You can read a Q & A with Clear here: Making Punishment Fit the Crime