A welcome chance to reform criminal sentencing
Crime and punishment have a complicated relationship. From 2010 to 2015, 31 states experienced tandem declines in crime rates and incarceration rates. In the 10 states with the largest reductions in imprisonment, crime rates dropped by an average of 14.4 percent. Meanwhile, in 10 states that increased imprisonment, crime fell by an average of only 8.1 percent.
In the Senate, legislation for prison reform is drawing bipartisan support. The First Step Act would turn federal policy away from the single-minded pursuit of harsher sentences. Congress should pass it as soon as possible.
The bill would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes and grant judges greater discretion in sentencing nonviolent drug offenders. It would also fund recidivism reduction programs for low-risk inmates and allow some 2,600 drug offenders to petition for reduced sentences.
The bill has broad support, including from President Donald Trump. The House of Representatives passed its own modest reform legislation this year. The chief obstacle is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Excessive prison sentences devastate the lives of prisoners and their families, weaken communities, and cost taxpayers dearly. Many inmates should be shifted to less expensive, more rehabilitative programs. It's possible to save money and lives - and reduce crime - by revising the national strategy on punishment.