The Path Forward
By ending mandatory minimum sentences, sending fewer people to jail for low-level offenses, and by improving bail reform efforts, many states can turn the page on mass incarceration. Connecticut, Michigan, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and South Carolina have reduced their prison populations between 14 and 25% over the past decade. Here are the lessons we can learn from them to decarcerate America.
🙅♂️ End mandatory minimum sentences - Mandatory minimum sentences require those convicted to spend a set number of years in prison based on the crime before they are released or granted parole. As a result, the unique situation of a criminal - whether that person was a low-level accomplice or the kingpin of the crime - are not taken into consideration. Judge discretion is also given much less weight with mandatory minimums. Rhode Island achieved a 59% decrease in new court admissions for drug crimes by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for all drug crimes and changing possession of small amounts of marijuana to a civil infraction.
🍃 Send fewer people to jail for drug offenses - 1 in 5 people is in jail for a drug offense. America first needs to stop sending people to jail for low-level drug offenses, and second, needs to reduce the amount of time spent in jail for these offenses. Estimates suggest that cutting lengths of stay 50% for drug trafficking offenses would reduce the federal prison population 18% over the next 8 years.
Improve bail reform efforts - 470,000 people are in jail right now who have not even been convicted of a crime. This means nearly half a million people are in jail who may have done nothing wrong. The pre-trial detention rate has increased 470% over the last 4 decades. The average cost of paying bail for a felony is $10,000, and half of all the people who can’t post bail are parents. Defendants are 9x more likely to plead guilty to a misdemeanor if they can’t afford bail. Bail should be more affordable, which can be done by calculating bail based on a person’s ability to repay and using the Public Safety Assessment (PSA).