Myriad studies and statistics that have been released in recent years reveal quite starkly that the United States is a nation that has a prison-first mentality and concomitant criminal law policy based heavily on long-term punitive sanctions.
The so-called War on Drugs is largely responsible for that. For decades, many criminal defendants convicted on drug charges have been sentenced to terms that span decades. Some of them languish behind bars on life sentences, without any chance for parole.
People with varying sentimentalities and differing views on criminal justice can vigorously argue — and frequently do — the merits and drawbacks of criminal law policy that gravitates in many instances to lengthy lock-ups as a formal governmental response to crime.
What might seem far less understandable to many people reasonably contemplating the subject, though, is that draconian sentencing outcomes have been visited on high numbers of inmates over many years — in both federal and state prisons — who were nonviolent and, often, first-time drug offenders.
That policy has obviously yielded adverse consequences across a wide universe of concerns. For starters, many people who can arguably be rehabilitated or who can otherwise benefit from prison-alternative treatment, job-placement and community assimilation programs instead stay firmly ensconced behind bars — often for decades.
And that, of course, comes with a price. First, prison upkeep is obviously a costly reality. Second, numerous studies have shown that inmates released from prison following excessively lengthy terms suffer a higher recidivism rate.
That is, they are likely to reoffend at a higher level than are offenders who had the opportunity to participate in rehabilitative programs.
Many lawmakers, social and community activists, church leaders, criminal law commentators and other persons with a reform bent are currently stressing a strong need for systemic changes in America’s sentencing policies.
We will take a closer look at that in our next blog post.