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.
This week, the Court held in Dorsey v. United States and Hill v. United States that people who committed offenses before the enactment of the FSA but who were sentenced after should be sentenced based on the new 18:1 ratio rather than the old and discredited ratio of 100:1. As we’ve written before, the new ratio is a step in the right direction, although the only truly fair and empirically sound ratio would be 1:1.
Memos distributed to state employees Tuesday say Gov. Pat Quinn has made a “final decision” to close prisons in Dwight and Tamms, a youth facility in Murphysboro and inmate transition centers in Carbondale and Decatur. The one-page letter distributed to workers at the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice claims that the facilities will be shuttered by August 31. Closure of the Tamms supermax prison would force the state to reconsider its practice of placing prisoners in solitary confinement for long periods—decades, sometimes.
Two bills signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie will divert more people away from prison and funnel the cost savings into programs that increase public safety. The two measures will increase the amount of restitution paid to victims from an inmate's account; add staff for victim services in the Prosecuting Attorney offices, the Department of Public Safety (which manages state prisons) and the Crime Victim Compensation Commission; eliminate delays in pre-trial risk assessments; expand the parole board from three to five members; and allocate $1 million to community-based treatment programs.
A justice reform bill passed the Pennsylvania House unanimously, and must make another pit stop in the Senate, who already passed a version of the bill, before heading to Gov. Corbett’s desk. Among other things, the bill makes more nonviolent offenders eligible for alternative sentencing programs, including county intermediate punishment and motivational boot camps, and increases the use of treatment programs for drug- and alcohol-addicted offenders.
This week, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held the first-ever hearing on solitary confinement. Mississippi’s Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps testified that his state reduced prison violence and reaped millions in budgetary savings by steeply cutting back on solitary confinement. Anthony Graves, an innocent man who spent years in solitary confinement on Texas’ death row, testified about the inhumanity of solitary confinement (listen to him tell his story here, and read his moving account here). More than 80,000 men and women are held in solitary confinement in the U.S.