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.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Because US drug prohibition policy is historically based on conservative religious dogma, not medical science, any nonviolent offenders of drug laws should be lauded for exercising their religious, commercial, and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Consitution and should be welcomed back into the American community with open arms.

Sent by J. S. Campbell | 9:22 AM | 3-11-2008

I started working at San Quentin Prison as a re-entry case manager last summer. It was at this time that I began to witness first hand how unjust many of California's sentencing laws are, particulary the 3-strikes law. The prisons are now overflowing with individuals serving life sentences for non-violent/non-serious crimes at a cost to taxpayers of over one billion dollars a year. To ease the overcrowding in these prisons the State of California legislators recently agreed to pass a bill (AB900) that would result in roughly $11 billion dollars being spent for what is called the largest prison expansion project in history. As a social service professional whose passion is prevention, it makes me lose sleep at night to know that our state is spending this money to build more prisons while they are proposing to cut money from education and social service programs- the very things that keeps our children out of prison and our streets safe.
I am now working to amend this law so I've done a lot of research on both sides of the issue. Honestly, as much as I disagree with this law on a humanitarian level, I couldn't begin to advocate for something that actually made our streets safer. Initiatlly, it was difficult to understand whether tough sentences like this were working or not b/c both sides claim to have statistics that support their side. However, when you look deeper, YES crime did go down in California after this tough sentence was enacted, but crime went down everywhere. In fact, some states w/no 3-strikes law had a greater decline in crime. Not to mention, tough on crime sentences only further the cycle of crime for generations to come since children of incarcerated parents ar 5 to 6 times more likely to be incarcerated themselves.
I believe the same thing applies to other tough sentencing laws. We have to get to the root of the problem. While I fully believe people must be held accountable for their actions, I also believe incarceration is not a deterent to crime for the average person that ends up in prison. Otherwise they never would've committed the crime in the first place knowing the consequences. It is a much deeper problem than that. We need to focus so much more on rehabilation and prevention so that these issues are addressed the first go around. If we lessened sentences for non-violent crimes and put that money into prison rehabiliation to target violent or serious offenders we would get so much further!

Sent by Rachel Summers | 12:05 AM | 3-13-2008


I apologize for putting this comment here, but I did not see anywhere else to post it.

I just had a question for the "right reverend" who was on your show this morning, 03/24/2008, stating his apparent disdain for the drug offenders who have served over a decade in prison and might be released one or two years early: since he is so against them returning to the only place many of them know, what would the "reverend" suggest be done with these people? Should they remain incarcerated, in a system that is not doing anything to rehabilitate them in any way so that they will be equipped to be productive in society once they are released?

Instead of being so unChrist-like in his attitude towards them, perhaps the good reverend can begin a program at his church or in the community he spoke of that will assist in job skills training and/or education for these young men and women who felt they had no other job opportunities when they engaged in the activities that led them to prison in the first place.

Sent by Mrs. Ellis | 2:45 PM | 3-24-2008


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