Sentencing Reform

Supreme CourtWithin NACDL’s mission is an effort to focus more attention on the social and economic benefits of crime prevention — through education, economic opportunity, and rehabilitation of former offenders. Our governments must eschew simplistic, expensive, and ineffective measures such as inflexible mandatory sentencing. Mandatory minimum sentencing deprives judges of the ability to fashion sentences that suit the particular offense and offender. At great cost to taxpayers, mandatory minimums have forced judges to sentence thousands of first-time, non-violent drug offenders to unconscionably long prison terms. Such sentencing laws disproportionately affect minorities and have contributed greatly to the seven-fold increase in the U.S. prison population during the past three decades.

In response to Justice Kennedy’s remarks at the American Bar Association’s (ABA) annual meeting in August 2003, the ABA formed the Justice Kennedy Commission, comprised of prominent attorneys from various sections of the ABA.  The Justice Kennedy Commission’s recommendations, which were endorsed by the NACDL and approved by the ABA, include: (1) repeal of mandatory minimum sentences; (2) sentencing alternatives to incarceration as punishment for those who pose a low risk to society and appear likely to benefit from rehabilitative efforts; (3) appropriate programming, including substance-abuse treatment, educational and job-training opportunities, and mental-health counseling and services, from the beginning of each prisoner’s incarceration.

Links to resources on sentencing and possible reform are available below:

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