Report: Making Longer Prison Sentences 'More Effective'
Thursday, April 6, 2023
A new report outlines ways that states like Virginia could rethink long prison sentences and how to use them more sparingly.
The Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Long Sentences makes a series of policy recommendations for more judicial discretion in sentencing, and for promoting more individual accountability.
They focus on allocating more resources to rehabilitation, through behavioral healthcare or trauma services.
Virginia is among the states where more people serve long sentences, and John Maki - the director of the task force - described what's causing the uptick, nationwide.
"What we're seeing is that the nation's overall share of people serving long sentences is growing," said Maki. "And that's not primarily because the nation is increasing its use of long sentences - but rather, we're slightly decreasing our use of shorter sentences. And people serving longer sentences are stacking up."
He added that it's an important point because the perceived public safety advantages of longer prison terms diminish, as people tend to "age out" of criminal behavior.
A bill this year in the Virginia General Assembly would have allowed eligible people who've served at least 15 years to petition a court for a second look at their sentence. But it failed to advance out of committee.
While these recommendations are designed to make better use of long sentences, Maki noted that they are a framework for policymakers. He said more could be done to ensure that long sentences are only used when necessary.
"Ultimately," said Maki, "this is on legislators, governors, to take a look at their long-sentence populations - to ask themselves, 'Are our laws and policies calibrated to achieve the best outcome that all people want, which are safe communities?'"
Upon release, the report says people serving longer sentences often have different needs that can be challenging - from aging to having been separated from family for so long.
While there are numerous prison programs, few target this group of people.
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