An Urban Institute study released Thursday argues the US is imprisoning too many inmates for too long and proposes preventing life-without-parole sentences as a good solution to the problem.
The study took a snapshot of inmates still in prison at the end of each year between 2000 and 2014, measuring how much time each had already served. It found that inmates are spending more time in prison, and that the longest sentences are getting longer. The study then lists several reforms the Urban Institute (UI) thinks would address the issue.
“Everyone deserves a meaningful chance of release,” the study argues. “People should not be forever judged solely based on their crime but should instead be evaluated based on who they are now. Those who demonstrate significant progress in personal transformation while in prison should be given an opportunity for review and release.”
The study argues for a set of core principles lawmakers should look to when pursuing justice reform legislation, including establishing presumptive parole for offenders and addressing racial disparities in sentencing.
UI found that black people were incarcerated more frequently and for longer than any other race between 2000 and 2014. The institute cited Pennsylvania statistics showing that black people were incarcerated five times more often than whites and that black offenders made up 60 percent of inmates serving the longest sentences.
“The black incarceration rate has decreased over the past decade, likely as a result of reforms for less serious drug offenses,” the study read. “But people serving the longest terms remain untouched by such policy changes.”
There is some recent evidence which disputes this claim, however. The United States Sentencing Commission released a study Tuesday finding that among offenders subject to the longest sentences, mandatory minimum sentences, white defendants receive the most severe punishments.
The USSC study analyzed more recent prison data from 2016 and found that white offenders received an average sentence of 127 months, black offenders 119 months, and Hispanic offenders 93 months.
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