The title of this post is the title of this recent USA Today op-ed authored by Kevin Sharp and Kevin Ring. Based on the title alone, regular readers should know I am keen on the ideas in this piece, and here are excerpts:
It’s time we took bold steps that would give most prisoners an incentive to work hard to change their lives and successfully reintegrate into society, making us all safer when they do. It’s time for Congress and state legislatures to adopt broad “second look” sentencing laws.
We have both worked with people who have taken extraordinary steps to rehabilitate themselves in prison. One of us is a former federal judge who resigned, in large part, because he could no longer stand to impose the excessive and unjust prison terms Congress mandates in so many cases. The other is a former prisoner and the leader of a national organization that works with thousands of families directly impacted by harsh federal and state sentencing laws.
We know that implementing second-look laws, which would allow judges to review every offender’s sentence after a certain period — say 10 or 15 years — could reform our criminal justice system in a way that would recognize the capacity for rehabilitation, ensure public safety and reduce excessive sentences.
Second-look laws would give any individual hoping for a second chance more than enough time to show that he or she has earned it. Knowing that an opportunity for resentencing exists would very likely improve morale and behavior inside prisons, benefiting prisoners and corrections officers alike.
There is nothing more frightening than living in an environment where there is no hope. Moreover, there is ample evidence to suggest that lengthier sentences do not make us safer, yet our country continues to impose some of the harshest prison terms in the Western world….
Although presidents and many governors have the authority to shorten excessive sentences and reward extraordinary rehabilitation, they rarely use it. Over the past 40 years, executives have been loath to take any risks with their political futures. We need to move beyond short-term fear and follow what we know to be true about human nature and people’s capacity to change. Enacting second-look laws would allow us to reduce the unnecessary harm we are causing to some of our fellow citizens and improve public safety for all of us.
Under second-look laws, public safety would be preserved by ensuring that prosecutors, probation officers and pretrial services, along with prison officials, are involved in any resentencing in order to make the court aware of a given individual’s rehabilitation, or lack thereof. It’s more likely that adopting second-look laws would make our communities safer and decrease the strain on our prison system by preventing us from wasting our limited anti-crime resources warehousing people who pose little or no safety risk.
If we want to safely reduce our nation’s prison population, we need to stop throwing people away and start recognizing the human capacity for rehabilitation and redemption. We need to commit to second chances, and we can start by promising to give everyone a second look.
A few of many, many prior related posts and related writings:
- Good day for thinking hard about sentencing second looks and second chances
- “For Justice and Decarceration, Enact Second-Look Sentencing”
- Compassionate release after FIRST STEP: Should many thousands of ill and elderly federal inmates now be seeking reduced imprisonment in court?
- Federal judge pens extraordinary and compelling order requesting US Attorney to vacate old stacked 924(c) conviction in extraordinary and compelling case
- “Re-Balancing Fitness, Fairness, and Finality for Sentences“
- “Reflecting on Parole’s Abolition in the Federal Sentencing System“
- “Encouraging (and Even Requiring) Prosecutors to be Second-Look Sentencers“
- FSR issue on “second look” sentencing reforms now on-line
- Strong arguments for second-look sentencing reforms from SCOTUS concurrences
- “Eight Keys to Mercy: How to shorten excessive prison sentences”