Wednesday, March 21, 2012

25 Years of Sentencing


The Sentencing Project has a new collection of essays out, celebrating 25 years of existence and envisioning the sentencing and corrections of the future.

Alan Jenkins' essay features the following analysis of the changes in public opinion:


A 2006 survey by the National Center for State Courts, for example, showed that crime was regarded as the country’s
top problem by only 2 percent of Americans, while another 2 percent considered illegal drugs to be the top prob- lem. By contrast, in 1993, crime topped a majority of the U.S. public’s list.


According to the NCSC survey, and others, 58 percent of Americans favor prevention and rehabilitation as the best way to deal with crime over enforcement and punishment, and 8 in 10 believe something can be done to turn someone into a productive citizen after they’ve committed a crime. By a huge margin (76 percent vs. 19 percent), the public pre- fers to spend tax dollars on programs that prevent crime rather than building more prisons.


While the death penalty remains popular standing alone, a 2010 poll commissioned by the Death Penalty Information Center found that 61 percent of voters favor clear alterna- tives like life in prison with restitution to victims’ families.


And, more so than in past years, significant segments of the public also see bias based on race and income as real and troubling problems. Large majorities, moreover, see socio- economic bias in the system. These are still tough debates, but ones we can win.


Low crime rates, diminished crime reporting by many news outlets, rising budget pressures, and smart communica- tions by advocates have driven this shift in public opinion. That mix has made possible changes that seemed unthink- able a decade ago: reform of New York’s Rockefeller drug laws, reentry and drug treatment alternatives in Texas, res- toration of voting rights in Rhode Island, abolition of the death penalty in multiple states, lessening of federal crack/ powder cocaine sentencing disparities, and the bipartisan Second Chance Act.


Moving toward a model criminal justice system, then, is more achievable today than at any time in recent memory. Now is the time to build on public support and channel it toward more transformative change. That means adding a more effective and collaborative communications strategy to the innovative advocacy, organizing, litigation, research, and policy analysis that reformers are already pursuing around the country.

I think Jenkins is right and the tides are turning, but I can't help but ask myself whether it really is profound ideological change or scarcity-induced pragmatism. Not that the latter can't be a basis for change.

3 comments:

Spoon, a poet behind bars said...

Should American prisons be abolished? I posed this question to some of my co-workers and students in the art room. I know a lot of free people in America and particularly in California who thinks it's just fine to continue building and filling up more prisons, and keeping prisoners who have decades in prison, and have more than served their time in any civilized society.
Some people are pissed off at being a victim of crime, and therefore think whatever happens to prisoners they have earned it, and all that is understandable.
Some white and black prisoners in the art room get pissed, when I must bring up race to show the results of a bias, inherently racist judicial and penal system, particularly in California.
One white prisoner tells me ”Spoon, blacks cannot keep playing the victim, saying they are in prison due to environmental, economical and societal reasons”. The white guy said ”Why am I in prison?”
First, I told the white guy, blacks are not crying victim and are just stating facts of a racist society, a racist educational, judicial and penal system. Racism is still so blatant now here in the USA, as if, they are still hanging thousands of black and brown prisoners on shade trees across this golden state.
It astounds me how those systems are able to turn black and brown people against people in prison of their own hue, when everyone, including the whites know that the injustice in the prison system and justice system and educational system are all race based.
Second, I told the white prisoner, every advantage, every condition in California and the USA is set up for white folks to succeed. White people are the majority in this country and set up the game plans and embed race hatred in the middle.
Conditions for failure for people of color, black and brown, have been entrenched into the American society for hundreds of years. Slavery in America has been channeled into the prison system. When the prison system was mainly white, the laws and sentences of prisoners were light and forgiving. Yes, prisons should be abolished. My co-workers say we should fix the system, because we cannot allow prisoners who have created horrible crimes to run amuck. Abolishing prisons does not mean that. You cannot fix a rotten penal system from the middle or the end. It would be like cutting the tail, the rattle off a rattle snake, you can still get bit. Prisons are made up of people, so fix the conditions that bring young people to the penal system. The educational, job, environmental and social conditions must be modified to prevent young folks from coming to prison in the first place. Prisons should be abolished and replaced with spiritual and mental establishments.
Lets start a true dialogue, pro and cons about abolishing prisons in America!
Spoon Jackson
(posted by his editor)

Spoon, a poet behind bars said...

Should American prisons be abolished? I posed this question to some of my co-workers and students in the art room. I know a lot of free people in America and particularly in California who thinks it's just fine to continue building and filling up more prisons, and keeping prisoners who have decades in prison, and have more than served their time in any civilized society.
Some people are pissed off at being a victim of crime, and therefore think whatever happens to prisoners they have earned it, and all that is understandable.
Some white and black prisoners in the art room get pissed, when I must bring up race to show the results of a bias, inherently racist judicial and penal system, particularly in California.
One white prisoner tells me ”Spoon, blacks cannot keep playing the victim, saying they are in prison due to environmental, economical and societal reasons”. The white guy said ”Why am I in prison?”
First, I told the white guy, blacks are not crying victim and are just stating facts of a racist society, a racist educational, judicial and penal system. Racism is still so blatant now here in the USA, as if, they are still hanging thousands of black and brown prisoners on shade trees across this golden state.
It astounds me how those systems are able to turn black and brown people against people in prison of their own hue, when everyone, including the whites know that the injustice in the prison system and justice system and educational system are all race based.
Second, I told the white prisoner, every advantage, every condition in California and the USA is set up for white folks to succeed. White people are the majority in this country and set up the game plans and embed race hatred in the middle.
Conditions for failure for people of color, black and brown, have been entrenched into the American society for hundreds of years. Slavery in America has been channeled into the prison system. When the prison system was mainly white, the laws and sentences of prisoners were light and forgiving. Yes, prisons should be abolished. My co-workers say we should fix the system, because we cannot allow prisoners who have created horrible crimes to run amuck. Abolishing prisons does not mean that. You cannot fix a rotten penal system from the middle or the end. It would be like cutting the tail, the rattle off a rattle snake, you can still get bit. Prisons are made up of people, so fix the conditions that bring young people to the penal system. The educational, job, environmental and social conditions must be modified to prevent young folks from coming to prison in the first place. Prisons should be abolished and replaced with spiritual and mental establishments.
Lets start a true dialogue, pro and cons about abolishing prisons in America!
Spoon Jackson
(posted by his editor)

Ashley said...

Thanks for sharing the essay! It is interesting to see how times of economic recession and the need to be pragmatic can sometimes be a good vehicle for social change.