Granting sentence reductions to nonviolent offenders is safe and effective because these offenders have not hurt anyone, and it is unlikely that they would after being released. Sentence reduction can be beneficial for the economy, especially since the United States has the highest percentage of incarcerated individuals in the world and it requires a lot of money to maintain them. Reducing prison sentences for nonviolent offenders is the most logical option when it comes to keeping citizens safe.
However, according to the National Review, at the beginning of 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission adopted an amendment to reduce the sentences for certain drug-trafficking and distribution offenses.
Tens of thousands of inmates in the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ custody were eligible for sentence reduction. These inmates were in jail for minor drug offenses. Other inmates stepped up to have their records examined in order to be considered for a sentence reduction, even though they were not necessarily convicted of minor drug offenses.
This is problematic since these changes were applied without much regard to the inmates’ criminal history. Thus, criminals set to be released sooner due to the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s amendment would include those with histories of serious and alarming offenses such as assault, murder, possession of child pornography and sometimes rape.
In this case, sentence reduction can encourage criminals to commit more crimes since they may have had their punishments shortened and their records cleared. To simply apply sentence reductions to all federal inmates without taking any thoughtful considerations or precautions is disturbing for many civilians.
According to The Guardian, there is evidence that suggests that longer prison terms help reduce crime, facts that were determined from a study conducted at Birmingham University and research from CIVITAS, an independent think tank. The Guardian states, “The researchers concluded that prison was particularly effective in reducing property crime when targeted at serious and repeat offenders. They concluded that an increase of just one month in the average sentence length for burglaries—from 15.4 to 16.4 months—would reduce burglaries in the following year by 4,800, out of an annual total of 962,700.”
Taxpayers could save millions of dollars by reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders. There was recent data published on DailyComet.com that revealed that Louisiana has the highest rates of incarceration in the United States. Mostly, the incarcerated individuals have been imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes.
According to a report released by the office of Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, it was suggested that the state of Louisiana could save $70 million in jail costs by reducing the sentences of the nearly 9,000 convicts who have criminal histories of only drug possession. The New Orleans Advocate article accompanying the report states, “Changes to mandatory minimum sentencing laws—if they were targeted to allow judges to sentence thousands of drug offenders to probation and ‘community programming,’ rather than prison—could spark more than $100 million in savings.”
It is difficult to write about reduced prison sentences without addressing Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander is a law professor at Ohio State University.
In her book, she discussed how mass incarceration today has connections and similarities to the pre-Civil War era and post-Civil War Jim Crow laws, which were all centered around maintaining a racial caste system in the United States.
She goes into further detail when she explains how the criminal justice system operates as a reformed system of racial control by targeting black people and other people of color through the war on drugs. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is just one of the examples she cited in order to explain and show how the unfair treatment of the criminal justice system created a disparity in conviction assignments during trials.
Much harsher punishments are usually imposed for the possession of drugs with black people as opposed to the punishments imposed for the possession of drugs with white people. However, if reduction in prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders became more common, it could level out the playing field more and lead to justice for inmates as well as reform to the criminal justice system in the United States.
Only nonviolent drug offenders with no other criminal history on their records should get a reduction in their prison sentences.