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Can Criminal Justice Reform Happen This Year?46:52
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FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2015 file photo, a guard tower looms over a federal prison complex which houses a Supermax facility outside Florence, in southern Colorado. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed the nation’s federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against the vast majority of suspects, a reversal of Obama-era policies that is sure to send more people to prison and for far longer terms. The move, announced in a policy memo sent to U.S. attorneys late on May 10, has been expected from Sessions. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley,File)MoreCloseclosemore
FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2015 file photo, a guard tower looms over a federal prison complex which houses a Supermax facility outside Florence, in southern Colorado. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed the nation’s federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against the vast majority of suspects, a reversal of Obama-era policies that is sure to send more people to prison and for far longer terms. The move, announced in a policy memo sent to U.S. attorneys late on May 10, has been expected from Sessions. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley,File)

Shorter sentences, fewer people behind bars. We’ll look at a criminal justice reform bill making its way through Congress.

We also look at the fight over prison reading programs.

Guests:

Elana Schor, congressional reporter for Politico. (@eschor)

Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network. (@holly_harris)

Jerry Madden, former Texas House Committee on Corrections chairman, senior fellow at the Right on Crime campaign. (@jerrymadden)

Christia Mercer, professor of philosophy at Columbia University who has taught at Taconic Correctional Facility and Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center. (@christiamercer8)

Jason Hernandez, youth outreach and program development leader at Grace to Change drug and alcohol center, served 17 years in federal prison.

From The Reading List:

The Guardian: I Read 'The New Jim Crow' In Jail. It Changed My Life. —  "When I heard that The New Jim Crow – a book by Michelle Alexander about how mass incarceration in America is a new form of racial control – had been banned by New Jersey prisons, I was shocked, angered and saddened. That’s the exact same way I felt when I first read the book behind bars."

Politico: Criminal Justice Overhaul Advances Amid Grassley-Sessions Spat — "A bipartisan criminal justice bill easily won approval from the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, amid a rare public clash on the plan between Chairman Chuck Grassley and Attorney General Jeff Sessions."

New York Times: Why Are American Prisons So Afraid Of This Book? — "In the eight years since its publication, 'The New Jim Crow,' a book by Michelle Alexander that explores the phenomenon of mass incarceration, has sold well over a million copies, been compared to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, been cited in the legal decisions to end stop-and-frisk and sentencing laws, and been quoted passionately on stage at the Academy Awards.

But for the more than 130,000 adults in prison in North Carolina and Florida, the book is strictly off-limits."

NBC News: Reading Gives People In Prison Hope. But Some States Want To Take Their Books Away — "Confined to their cells and meager belongings, my students found themselves luxuriating in the surreality of a 4,000 year-old story, while increasingly seeing themselves in the struggles of its heroes."

At a time of dropping violent crime and an aging, expensive, prison population, lawmakers are taking another look at the harsh, automatic, and long sentences that marked the 1980s and 90s… But the Trump Administration, and especially the Sessions Department of Justice, looks less than ready to sign on to a new era of diversion, shorter sentences, and more judicial discretion on who does hard time. Also, a look at restrictions on what prisoners read behind bars. This hour, On Point: The debate over sentencing in federal prisons, slamming the cell door…but NOT throwing away the key. --Ray Suarez

This program aired on February 22, 2018.

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