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.
Rodrigo Caballero was 16 when he shot and wounded three rival gang members. He was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and sentenced to 110 years in prison. Caballero would not be eligible for parole for 100 years. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without parole for nonhomicide offenses violates the Eighth Amendment; concluding that Caballero’s long sentence was effectively equivalent to life without parole, the California Supreme Court found Caballero’s sentence unconstitutional.
The California Assembly passed a bill that would allow prisoners serving life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed as a juvenile to ask a court to reduce their sentences to 25 years to life, but only if they have already spent 15 years behind bars, have worked toward rehabilitation and can prove they are remorseful. If the court agrees, the prisoner could appeal to the state's parole board for release after serving 25 years. Supporters estimate that a minority of the 300 prisoners sentenced to life without parole as juveniles would be eligible for a new sentence under the bill.
The Supreme Court gave California until June 2013 to reduce overcrowding in its prisons to no more than 137.5 percent of capacity. State officials now believe that they will not be unable to comply by the deadline, and indicated that they intend to ask for a new cap of 145 percent. The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times issued a notable reply to the state’s announcement, calling on the state to employ smart strategies to reduce prison populations, including revising certain mandatory minimums and implementing earned-credit programs that would allow prisoners to reduce their sentences by participating in programs proven to reduce recidivism.
Despite a growing overall population, Texas’ prison population continues its trend downward, recently posting its lowest total since 2008. Credit for the trend is likely due to a combination of factors, including falling crime rates, an aging population, and a series of smart, bipartisan reforms. Texas still has a lot of work ahead: the state still holds the nation’s largest prison population and faces a lingering staffing shortage
Parole releases are up and parole revocations are down in Texas, thanks to the use of revamped guidelines that allow the Parole Board to better assess the likelihood of a successful parole outcome.