Creating equitable sentencing practices
There must be a concerted effort to promote equitable sentencing practices that reflect the severity of crime and ensure that prison is not overused as a punishment. Sentencing laws should ensure that there is individualization, which allows sentences that take into account the circumstances of an offense; humanity that focuses on sentences that respect the dignity of the individual and the impact of sentences on families and communities; parsimony, which allows for sentences that are no more severe than necessary; proportionality, which requires that sentences be proportioned to the severity of the offense; and regularity, which allows sentences be guides by “consistently applied standards or guidelines.”
Congress, and state and local legislatures should:
- Repeal “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which limit access to parole and decreases in the amount of time that a person convicted of an offense serves;
- Restore judicial discretion and review in sentencing determinations so that judges may consider the circumstances surrounding criminal conduct;
- Eliminate cocaine and crack sentence differences;
- Prohibit the imposition of fines or jail time for alleged failure to appear, which seek to punish rather than ensure appearance in court, to ensure that individuals are not being incarcerated for missing a court date;
- Shorten sentence lengths across the board;
- Adopt a stated goal of reducing incarceration in half by 2030 to encourage smarter sentences;
- Eliminate mandatory minimums;
- Repeal drug free school zone laws and habitual offender laws;
- Provide training programs for judges on implicit bias;
- Educate judges on their role in reducing mass incarceration;
- Replace incarceration with community service and/or probation for less serious offenses;
- Make all incarcerated individuals who are serving fixed sentences of five years and higher or an indeterminate term, who have served five years of their sentences, eligible for release;
- Allow all incarcerated individuals who are 35 years of age and older and who are serving fixed sentences of three years and higher or an indeterminate term, who have served three years of their sentences, eligible for release; and
- Considering that there is considerable research on the discriminatory impact of the death penalty, abolish the death penalty while lowering sentences as whole. However, sentences that result in life without parole should not be used a substitute for the death penalty.
The United States Sentencing Commission should:
- Revise the Sentencing Guidelines to allow for alternatives to incarceration, especially for individuals who been convicted of less serious crimes.
Federal and state judges should:
- Place individuals in contempt of court for civil fees or fines only where the court has determined that the individual has the financial means to pay the fees or fines.
- Take “the welfare of the family of the accused should be taken into account, with particular attention to the best interests of the child.”