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Unlocking U.S. Sentencing Reform48:31
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Step one in sentencing reform: 6,000 federal prisoners will go free at the end of this month. We’ll dig in.

Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman talks on his phone outside the newly constructed jail as prisoners are transferred into the facility in New Orleans, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP)
Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman talks on his phone outside the newly constructed jail as prisoners are transferred into the facility in New Orleans, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP)

The biggest release of federal prisoners in US history is unfolding this month. By November 2, six thousand prisoners will be out through the gates, the first of more than 40,000 on the road to early release. Most are drug offenders whose sentences, under mandatory sentencing guidelines, now just look too long. Like overkill. And there is more sentencing reform coming. The US is a stark world leader in incarceration. By a very wide margin. Now there is bi-partisan support for doing something about it. But how much?  And how fast? This hour On Point, facing America’s imprisonment problem.
-- Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Sari Horwitz, national Justice Department and criminal justice reporter for the Washington Post. (@SariHorwitz)

Paul Wright, editor in chief of Prison Legal News and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center. (@paulwrighthrdc)

Glenn Martin, criminal justice reform advocate. Founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA. (@glennEmartin)

Judge Mark Bennett, U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Iowa. (@markwbennett1)

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post: The U.S. is set to release thousands of prisoners early. Here’s where they’re headed. -- "The early release follows action last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — an independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal crimes — that reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and then made that change retroactive. The commission last year estimated that its change in drug sentencing guidelines could result in as many as 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 federal drug offenders qualifying for early release."

The Nation: How Mandatory Minimums Forced Me to Send More Than 1,000 Nonviolent Drug Offenders to Federal Prison — "You might think the Northern District of Iowa—a bucolic area home to just one city with a population above 100,000—is a sleepy place with few federal crimes. You would be wrong. Of the ninety-four district courts across the United States, we have the sixth-heaviest criminal caseload per judge."

NPR News: New House Bill Could Cut Some Mandatory Life Sentences To 25 Years — "Criminal justice policy once represented a third rail of U.S. politics. But over the past few years, in a movement led by states such as Texas and Georgia, political conservatives have advocated for releasing nonviolent offenders who pose little risk to public safety and for spending more money on re-entry programs and alternatives to incarceration. An unusual left-right group, the Coalition for Public Safety, has been pressing for reforms. Its members include Koch Industries and the ACLU."

This program aired on October 12, 2015.

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