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Sun Sep 30, 2012, 07:44 AM

10 ways to reduce our out of control prison population


As someone who writes and organizes around issues of imprisonment and detention my work is often met with a certain type of resignation. Though many politically-conscious individuals are quick to lament our nation’s chart-topping incarceration rates, they’re justifiably overwhelmed by the complexity and magnitude of our so-called justice system. Many simply don’t know where or how to begin tackling the most salient, silent problem in the United States today. The following list represents a clear set of strategies for reducing our 2,300,000+ prison population without compromising public safety.

1 . Replace mandatory sentencing laws with more flexible and individualized sentencing guidelines.

By 1983 forty-nine state legislatures had enacted mandatory sentencing statutes and in 1986 Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act which, though, well intentioned, established 5- and 10-year mandatory sentences for drug importation and distribution. Two years later President Reagan signed the Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act granting the federal government authority to penalize all conspirators in drug-related crimes regardless of their role. Mandatory sentencing laws like these limit judicial jurisdiction by preventing sentencing judges from considering a full range of mitigating factors in a defendant’s profile, including the defendant’s role in the offense or likelihood of committing a future infraction.

2 . Strategically reduce “three-strikes” laws for non-violent offenders.

Although twenty-six states have passed “three-strikes” laws for violent offenders since 1993, California’s 1994 “three strikes” ruling punishes minor, non-violent crimes with the penalty of twenty-five years to life. Nearly 4,000 prisoners in the state of California are now serving life sentences for a third strike offense that was neither violent nor serious. This figure represents more than 40 percent of California’s 8,500 third-strike offenders. This November, California voters will have a chance to revise the “three strikes” law through a ballot-measure—Proposition 36— which, if passed, will eliminate life sentences for offenders whose third strike is neither serious nor violent.

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Reply 10 ways to reduce our out of control prison population (Original post)
xchrom Sep 2012 OP
CrispyQ Sep 2012 #1
no_hypocrisy Sep 2012 #2

Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Sep 30, 2012, 09:27 AM

1. Great article.

I didn't know this:

4 . Organize against prison gerrymandering to ensure that low-income communities—and particularly communities of color—receive a fair portion of federal aid.

The method by which the Census Bureau counts individuals in prison is problematic. It leads to a significant distortion of representation at local and state levels and results in an imprecise picture of community populations for funding and electoral purposes. The Bureau currently tabulates prisoners as residents of the towns where they are incarcerated. According to the Sentencing Project, however, states can correct the Census data “by creating a special state-level census that collects the home addresses of people in prison and then adjusts the U.S. Census counts prior to redistricting.” California, Delaware, Maryland, and New York have already adopted this important practice.

9. Suspend “Operation Streamline.”
(note: a Bush admin policy from 2005)


Prior to the enactment of “Operation Streamline,” DHS Border Patrol agents voluntarily returned first-time border crossers to their home countries or detained them and formally removed them from the United States through the civil immigration system. Further, “the U.S. Attorney’s Office reserved criminal prosecution for migrants with criminal records and for those who made repeated attempts to cross the border. Operation Streamline removed that prosecutorial discretion, requiring the criminal prosecution of all undocumented border crossers, regardless of their history.” As a result, “Operation Streamline” mandatorily forces undocumented migrants through the federal criminal justice system and into U.S. prisons instead of routing non-violent individuals caught crossing the border into civil deportation proceedings.

This zero tolerance bullshit has got to go.

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Response to xchrom (Original post)

Sun Sep 30, 2012, 09:36 AM

2. #11: More government funding of public defenders.

Many inmates are in prison due to substandard legal representation. Even when bright law graduates go into the public defenders office, their funding is cut by Congress, forcing many attorneys to leave as they can't pay their bills on their salaries.

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