NPR logo Ruling Allows Early Prison Release, but Then What?

Crime & Punishment

Ruling Allows Early Prison Release, but Then What?

How interested are you in how the sausage gets made?

A lot? Not too much? A show of hands ...

OK, so I'll compromise.

Short version: suffice it to say, the show we planned at 11 p.m. yesterday bares only a slight resemblance to the show you heard today. Let's just say that one guest's travel plans changed unexpectedly, another became SICK AS A DOG (you don't want to know, trust me) ... and, just as we were coming in today, we learned of new developments (which came Friday evening) in a story we've been following. It was a tiny bulletin in the stream of national news, but an important development, nonetheless. We felt we should bring you, but did not reach the right person until early this morning ...

(Sigh. Never a dull moment. That's why we're in the news business. As I say all the time, it'll either keep us young, or make us prematurely gray.)

I am particularly interested in your comments about the early release of folks convicted for crack cocaine offenses.

We've been following this. For years, activists have been complaining that the sentences for crack offenses were way too severe, compared to those for powdered cocaine. The U.S. Sentencing Commission finally agreed and lowered the sentences for some nonviolent offenses retroactively. As a consequence, about 1600 incarcerated persons were immediately eligible to have their sentences reduced; up to 20,000 could be released.

For many, this is a rare victory of common sense over ideology. It is so easy to pretend to be "tough on crime" by ratcheting sentences up, whether it makes a difference or not.

But does it make a difference?

Have these harsh sentences contributed to safer streets? And now that there seems to be a burgeoning agreement that this is unfair, what happens next? What do these folks face when they go home? Are their communities ready to welcome them, or are there mixed feelings about the devastation to which they contributed?

This is the territory we want to explore. Any ideas, comments are appreciated. And, if you are willing, we might put you on the air. So please let us know if you are game for that.