For those of us who believe that America imprisons too high a portion of its population, recent years have seen mixed progress. Many states have adopted measures that aim to move drug-addicted offenders involved in drug and property crime from jail or prison toward treatment under the threat of jail. Other categories of prisoners who seem to be enjoying some increase in sympathy from the public and politicians include women (whose crimes are often tied up with the criminality of abusive partners, and whose loss from the community often leaves a bigger hole than with men), juveniles facing long prison terms, and parolees returned to prison on technical violations (this may be a unique California problem but it includes tens of thousands of prisoners). This approach has lots of political appeal right now, but it will not work to achieve a substantial and enduring reduction in the US rate of incarceration. Instead, against all political common sense, I believe we need to directly address the extraordinarily harsh prison sentences we now hand out for violent crime.
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