Breaking the Addiction to Incarceration: Weekly Highlights (12/14/2012)

Today, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. With over 2.3 million men and women living behind bars, our imprisonment rate is the highest it’s ever been in U.S. history. And yet, our criminal justice system has failed on every count: public safety, fairness and cost-effectiveness. Across the country, the criminal justice reform conversation is heating up. Each week, we feature our some of the most exciting and relevant news in overincarceration discourse that we’ve spotted from the previous week. Check back weekly for our top picks.

For Lesser Crimes, Rethinking Life Behind Bars

Only a minority of countries even allow life without parole sentences, and those that do mostly reserve the punishment for the most serious offenses.  By contrast, the U.S. sentences many people to life without parole for nonviolent crimes, including drug offenses.  John Tierney from the New York Times describes one such prisoner, Stephanie George, and looks more broadly at the severity of American punishment. In addition, Mr. Tierney provided four other profiles of prisoners serving life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent offenses.

Texas Monthly on Michael Morton: “The Innocent Man”

25 years ago, Michael Morton was convicted of his wife’s murder. After fighting to have DNA evidence reviewed for over a decade, he was exonerated this year, and his prosecutor is now under investigation for withholding exculpatory evidence during Mr. Morton’s trial.  In an extensive two-part feature (Part Two here), Texas Monthly tells the entire heartbreaking story of how an innocent man lost half his life and his family to a false conviction.  “I thank God this wasn’t a capital case,” said Mr. Morton upon his release.  Also see Grits for Breakfast’s interview with the article’s author, Pam Colloff.

Could Manuel Velez be the 13th Prisoner Exonerated from Texas’s Death Row?

In 2005, Manuel Velez was convicted of murder and sentenced to death on the basis of flawed forensic testimony.  This week, a Brownsville District Court Judge held an evidentiary hearing on the new evidence of Mr. Velez’s innocence, as well as the reasons his incompetent trial attorney failed to produce this evidence at trial. You can read coverage of that hearing in three parts, here, here, and here.

Report: “On the Chopping Block 2012: State Prison Closings”

The Sentencing Project recently released a report documenting this year’s prison closures. In 2012, at least six states have closed 20 prison institutions or are contemplating doing so, potentially reducing prison capacity by over 14,100 beds and resulting in an estimated $337 million in savings.

Report: “The Growth & Increasing Cost of the Federal Prison System: Drivers and Potential Solutions”

The Urban Institute also released a report this week, in which it describes the main growth drivers of the federal prison population, half of whom are drug offenders. Front-end decisions about who goes to prison and for how long have the greatest impact, suggesting that reductions in sentence lengths—particularly for drug offenders—can most directly contain future growth. To add context to this report, you should also check out the Government Accountability Office’s September report on federal prison overcrowding here.

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What can I do about this in my own state? How do I have a voice on this specific issue in my own state?

Alex Stamm

What is your state, and what specific issue are you interested in?


I live in Maine. I am interested in many issues. But this blog tweaked my concern for people who are convicted and punished for crimes that are related to their mental illness. Our system is simply too harsh and punishes people who need treatment and medication. I'm in favor of eliminating the prison system all together, and replacing them with institutions of therapy and wellness. To simply warehouse people, oftentimes putting them in solitary confinement, is inhumane and unfair. Everyone has something to give back to society. I am so sickened by the state of our judicial system.


I'll try this again seeing that last time my comment never posted.

I live in Maine. I am interested in many issues. What tweaks me the most about the judicial system, are the harsh sentences in general. The judicial system should not be about punishment. It should be about helping people make positive changes in their lives. More often people who are incarcerated have mental health issues. It is a tragedy and a travesty that people are put in prisons at great cost to our society. I would like to see the prison system abolished and replaced with institutions of therapy and wellness. When I read the prison sentences in the weekly paper that are handed down, I am appalled that the only options most often seem to be a prison sentence. It seems we've lost our voice. What can I do? I've thought about starting a blog and expressing my opinion on the weekly court cases. What do you think Alex?



Regarding this awful trend in mass incarceration and the overzealous use of life without parole sentences in the U.S. I have started two separate petitions in attempt to gain support for the commutation of two Iowa women sentenced to LWOP. Please take a moment to read, and consider signing and sharing both petitions.

Veronica Horowitz

Regarding the topic of mass incarceration and the excessive use of Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentences in the U.S. I have started two separate petitions to help two different Iowa women sentenced to LWOP gain support for commutation. Please take a moment to read each petition and consider signing and SHARING. Thank you.


They don't seem to work Veronica. But thanks for bringing to my attention. :-)


Veronica Horowitz

THEY should work... please find me on Facebook or send me an email ( I will forward you the links!

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