Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Economy Stinks, But Sentencing Reform Smells Like Roses

Vanita Gupta discusses the silver lining of the recession in this Huffington Post piece and the ACLU's new report on six states that have responded to our stinky economy with sweet-smelling sentencing reforms.

These reforms carry consequences, but one of them isn't increased crime:

Our report, entitled Smart Reform is Possible: States Reducing Incarceration Rates and Costs While Protecting Public Safety, highlights six states — Texas, Mississippi, Kansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio — that recently passed significant bipartisan reforms to reduce their prison populations and budgets. These states also experienced declines in their crime rates while these new policies were in place. If states that are as “tough on crime” as Texas, Mississippi, and South Carolina can engage in more rational criminal justice policymaking and recognize that mass incarceration is not necessary to protect public safety, there is no reason for other states not to follow suit.

Obviously, the reasons to reduce our overreliance on prisons aren’t just fiscal. No dialogue about our criminal justice system is complete without discussing its pervasive and staggering racial injustices. The United States is the largest incarcerator in the world, with communities of color bearing the brunt. Black individuals are imprisoned at nearly six times the rate of their white counterparts, and Latinos are imprisoned at nearly double the white rate. Most of these racial disparities are results of the War on Drugs. While these groups engage in drug use, possession, and sales at rates comparable to their representa­tion in the general population, the system disparately locks up people of color.