More than half of U.S. prisoners are serving sentences of 10 years or more, according to a new report released by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for criminal justice reform.
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According to the findings, as of 2019, about 56% of prisoners nationwide were serving sentences of 10 years or more.
This is up from 2000, when sentences of 10 years or more accounted for 44% of the prison population.
“This is a big growth compared to the year 2000,” said Nazgol Ghandnoosh, senior research analyst at the Sentencing Project. “When we invest a lot of our public resources in very long sentences, we don’t do the most important things that we know are most effective in preventing crime in the first place.”
The organization says the report shows the need to give more prisoners the chance to re-evaluate their long sentences.
“All jurisdictions should establish an automatic judicial sentence review process within a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment, with a rebuttable presumption of reconviction,” the report said. “For those already convicted, retroactive sentencing reforms, increased discretionary release, and second-look reforms that allow for sentencing review, in addition to executive leniency, are important tools to correct past sentencing excesses.” .
“People who commit crime generally age out of criminal offending as they get older,” Ghandnoosh said. “They are less likely to break the law. They are less likely to reoffend when they have served longer sentences.”
The report also shows that longer sentences disproportionately affect black Americans in prison.
“While black Americans are greatly overrepresented in the prison population, this disparity widens among those serving long sentences,” the report said. “In 2019, Black Americans represented 14% of the total US population, 33% of the total prison population, and 46% of the prison population who had already served at least 10 years.”
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The report comes as there has been a national debate about how to deal with rising crime in cities across the country.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) said: “The MCCA has advocated a risk-based approach that would require an offender to undergo an individualized risk assessment that incorporates the entirety of their criminal history, public safety threat, tendency to repeat and flight risk. The MCCA does not oppose palliative release when appropriate and after thorough assessment. Public safety decisions should not be political. Instead, they must be transparent and based on science and evidence.”
In Memphis, the city’s mayor criticized the justice system this week after a suspect allegedly killed four people in a shooting spree.
“The problem is this justice system that won’t punish,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “That’s our problem.”
“We absolutely share the goal of promoting public safety,” Ghandnoosh said. “Incarcerating people for very long periods of time is not going to get us to the levels of public safety that we would like to achieve. We need to invest in communities, create economic stability for people.”
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