The Case for Releasing Violent Offenders From Prison Earlier

New drug sentencing grids have emerged over recent years in some states that have resulted in decreased prison terms.  Essentially, the weight of the controlled substances used to determine the seriousness of the offense has been increased. For example,  example, where 3 grams of cocaine or methamphetamine may have required a certain prison sentence, under new guidelines the amount might increase to 5 grams, and so forth. Also, some cases have been downgraded from a felony to a gross misdemeanor.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines and federal statutes have followed suit and have eased back on mandatory minimum sentencing that often resulted in draconian prison terms. In essence, federal judges have been given more discretion when sentencing defendants. President Obama used his executory powers to pardon some of these offenders.

All of this is good but such changes have thus far focused on drug offenders; there has been little support for leniency where violent criminals are concerned.  Many such offenders have been passed over at their parole hearings. For the reasons below, we think such practices, in some cases, are unfair and very costly to society.  .The fee to cover the average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in the fiscal year 2015 was $31,977.65 ($87.61 per day.


We agree with the writer for the New York Times that the time has come to reconsider the earlier release of some violent offenders.  Because the piece is so on-point and accurate, we quote from parts of the editorial as follows:

“This punitiveness makes us stand out as uniquely inhumane in comparison with other industrialized countries. To remedy this, along with other changes, we must consider opening the exit doors — and not just for the “easy” cases of nonviolent drug offenders. Yes, I’m suggesting that we release some of the people who once committed serious, violent crimes.

There’s widespread agreement that current practices are unsustainable. The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, yet has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The grim reality of American justice is that there are 2.3 million people behind bars, five million on parole or probation, 20 million with felony convictions and over 70 million with a criminal record.

But are prisoners who have served long sentences for violent crimes genuinely capable of reforming and not re-offending? The evidence says yes. In fact, only about 1 percent of people convicted of homicide are arrested for homicide again after their release. Moreover, a recent “natural experiment” in Maryland is very telling. In 2012, the state’s highest court decided that Maryland juries in the 1970s had been given faulty instructions. Some defendants were retried, but many others accepted plea bargains for time served and were released. As a result, about 150 people who had been deemed the “worst of the worst” have been let out of prison — and none has committed a new crime or even violated parole.”

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