A wel­come chance to re­form crim­i­nal sen­tenc­ing

The Olympian - - Opinion - BY WP BLOOMBERG

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.

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