By GNGF on May 12th, 2023 in Criminal Defense
A new report from the bipartisan Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) has questioned the effectiveness of long prison sentences in reducing recidivism and crime rates. A task force organized by the council suggests that money spent on long sentences might have a better effect if spent instead on programs and efforts to discourage crime. The task force noted discrepancies in sentencing, including on the basis of race.
Report from Bipartisan Panel of Criminal Justice Experts Examined Effectiveness of Long Prison Sentences
The CCJ’s Task Force on Long Sentences, co-chaired by former Republican congressman Trey Gowdy and former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, looked at the effectiveness of prison sentences of 10 years and more. The task force’s director, John Maki, stated that research indicated that the value of incarceration, measured by how much it reduced recidivism, ended at around ten years. Maki noted that criminal activity, especially among males, usually begins in their teenage years, peaks in the early 20s, and then steeply declines as people enter their 30s. Maki stated, “Most people, as they age, they become less likely to re-offend.” He asserted, “You are not going to get much more public-safety value [by keeping them in prison].”
The CCJ’s task force opines that reducing long sentences in a state like Illinois would only result in a slight increase in crime, with almost none of those crimes involving violence or weapons offenses. In a joint statement accompanying the task force’s report, Gowdy and Yates argued for the appropriateness of discussing the use and effectiveness of long prison sentences despite the rise in crime across the U.S., especially violent crimes. They noted that rises in crime rates often result in calls from the public and legislators for harsher sentencing without considering whether those longer sentences are actually effective.
The task force’s report found that 63 percent of people in state prisons in 2020 served sentences of 10 years or more, an increase from 46 percent in 2005. The report attributed this increase to a decline in people serving shorter prison terms. Moreover, the report found an increase in the percentage gap between Black and white prisoners serving prison sentences of 10 years or more from half a percent to four percent. Drug offenses accounted for the largest share of long prison sentences, with 20 percent of defendants convicted of drug offenses sentenced to 10 years or more prison terms.
Panel Suggests Other Methods for Combatting Rise in Crime Rates
Although the task force acknowledged the appropriateness of long prison sentences in some cases, it offered multiple recommendations for alternatives to increasing the length of prison sentences in response to rising crime rates. These recommendations included:
- Redirecting cost savings from decreased use of long prison terms to programs designed to reduce criminal activity and address the effects of crime on victims and communities
- Increasing the scope of facts and circumstances that trial judges can consider before deciding to impose long prison sentences
- Requiring individualized assessments of risk before imposing sentencing enhancements based on criminal history
- Offering “second look” sentence reviews and enhanced access to sentencing credits
- Imposing penalties in drug cases based on a defendant’s role in drug trafficking rather than the quantity of drugs involved
- Restricting the use of long sentences in drug cases arising from addiction or mental health issues
- Providing behavioral health services and rehabilitative conditions in prisons to reduce recidivism
- Increasing services for crime victims by enforcing victims’ rights and creating restorative justice opportunities
- Reducing racial disparities in sentencing that can adversely affect specific communities and potentially foster conditions for increased crime
- Using professional assessment of rehabilitation and present risk to public safety in parole decision
- Improving public understanding of the use of long sentences by providing more data and better transparency of costs and benefits
Although Long Prison Sentences May Work for Certain Cases, States Have Other Options for Leveraging Resources to Reduce Crime
While long sentences may be appropriate in cases involving defendants with a high risk of recidivism or heinous crimes warranting punishment, the Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Long Sentences suggests that states may have better options for deploying limited resources to help reduce crime and recidivism. Rather than using long prison sentences with limited effectiveness, states may instead focus on further tailoring sentences to defendants’ characteristics, providing better rehabilitation services in prison to reduce the risk of recidivism, and offering support to crime victims and communities to alleviate the conditions that can lead to a cycle of crime and violence.
The Criminal Defense Lawyers at the Noll Law Office in Springfield, Illinois represent those who have been accused of crimes in state and federal court throughout Central Illinois. If you or your loved one needs representation, please contact our firm at (217) 414-8889.