Our headlines seem filled with stories about crimes throughout the country. If the number of criminal lawyers is any indication it might seem like the overall incidence of crime was on the rise. However, a careful look at the data shows that the overall rate of crime has remained constant in this generation and it is the rate and total population of incarcerated individuals that has increased – mainly due to stricter sentencing guidelines.
If the goal is to scale back incarceration several important areas of the justice system need to be addressed. Here are some examples:
Some state legislatures have examined their probation systems and begun offering probation to third time non-violent offenders. They have also offered the same in the case of first-time, low-level violent offenses such as a simple battery. Other areas have reformed their laws to expand probation eligibility, reclassifying low-level felonies as misdemeanors, streamlining the parole review mechanism, and limiting admissions for technical violations.
Fixing The Race Issue
It is no surprise that there is a wide disparity in the racial representation among prison populations. In some areas legislatures have adopted new procedures called “racial impact statements”. These are studies that show how particular sentencing guidelines may have a disproportionate impact on one race over another, or one segment of society more than another. Some proposed laws require the legislature to show good cause why they enacted any law that disproportionately affects one race more than another. In another case, an oversight board monitors and implements practices to rectify structural race issues in the justice system.
Raising the Age
In many locales, children as young as 16 are prosecuted as adults. Many jurisdictions are now re-thinking these rules, with some passing legislation raising the juvenile jurisdiction age limit to 18 for non-violent crimes.