We Should Cap Prison Sentences at 20 Years

Or at least assess all inmates at that point, argues writer
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 13, 2016 10:15 AM CST
We Should Cap Prison Sentences at 20 Years

With talk of reforming the criminal justice system gaining steam, a writer at Democracy makes the case for a controversial idea: maximum sentences of 20 years for nearly all prisoners. Lots of attention has been paid to the long mandatory sentences doled out to nonviolent drug offenders, but Marc Mauer argues that those convicted of violent crimes shouldn't be spending most of their lives behind bars, either. The idea "is grounded in both humanitarian and public-safety concerns," he writes, noting that inmates often "age out" of the criminal mindset. And from a more practical point of view, it's expensive to care for older prisoners, all the more so given that most of them pose little danger to society. No other industrialized country keeps so many people behind bars for so long, he writes.

"The excessively lengthy incarceration of offenders—yes, even for violent crimes—is counterproductive, costly, and inhumane," writes Mauer. "To remedy this problem, Congress and state legislative bodies should establish an upper limit of 20 years in prison as a maximum penalty, except in unusual cases such as a serial rapist who has not been amenable to treatment in prison or a mass murderer." Review boards made up of psychologists and other experts could assess inmates at the 20-year mark to determine whether it makes sense to keep them locked up. Because, yes, that violent 18-year-old may indeed pose a danger to society on the day of his sentencing, but who can say what he'll be like 20 years down the road? Click for the full post. (More prison time stories.)

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