Capping Prison Sentences

December 9th, 2016 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense, Understanding Texas Law

The United States has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world. According to figures published by the BBC, 737 out of every 100,000 Americans are currently in jail. The only other country that comes anywhere near that rate is Russia (615 per 100,000 in prison).

Marc Mauer, the executive director of The Sentencing Project, testified before a task force in 2015 that the explosion in the federal prison population–a nearly ten-fold increase between 1980 and 2014–was largely due to “upward pressure on sentencing severity.” In plain terms, the United States imposes longer sentences on more defendants. This has led to a form of “sentencing inflation,” where harsh murder penalties–death or life in prison without parole–“eases the way for harsher sentences for all manner of less serious offenses such as burglary, larceny, and drug selling.”

Indeed, while longer prison sentences are often sold by politicians and the media as necessary to combat violent felonies, the bulk of U.S. (and Texas) inmates are serving time for non-violent offenses such as drug crimes. The Dallas Morning News recently reported that there are currently “116 people in Texas serving life sentences in prison for drug possession, and seven of them were in possession of only 1 to 4 grams.” The report noted that Texas has “habitual-offender laws” that mandate 25-to-life prison sentence for defendants with “two previous felony drug convictions.”

Support Growing for 20-Year Cap on Most Prison Terms

But as The Sentencing Project’s Mauer explained, prison “sentences of more than 20 years are largely counterproductive and extremely costly.” Scientific studies indicate the rate of criminal recidivism declines sharply among offenders “as they reach their 30s and 40s.” In other words, most offenders “age out” of crime, and keeping them in jail does nothing to protect society.

For these reasons, The Sentencing Project and other criminal justice reform advocates have proposed capping prison sentences at 20 years unless a judge determines a particular defendant “presents an undue risk to public safety.” As the Toledo Blade noted in an editorial supporting this proposal, a 20-year sentencing cap would would affect approximately 8,300 prisoners in Ohio and potentially save the state at least $100 million per year in costs.

Have You Been Charged With a Serious Crime in Houston or Galveston?

Sentencing caps would certainly benefit many Texas inmates. But the harsh nature of the current sentencing regime highlights the importance of working with an experienced Galveston criminal defense lawyer. If you are charged with any type of felony that might result in jail time, contact the League City criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today.

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