Some Optimism For a Change...
A few weeks ago, I was wondering whether the scattered news reports I was reading about states rethinking their insane prison policies actually added up to a trend. Well, here's a report
from the Sentencing Project that says it does. Last year, nine states set up oversight committees to look at sentencing, prison overcrowding, indigent defense, or reentry services. Seven states liberalized their parole policies. Four "eased policies that treated juveniles as adults." Three "relaxed sexual offense laws related to consensual acts conducted by teenagers."
That's a start, isn't it? As a bonus, "between 2004 and 2006, 22 states enacted sentencing reforms targeted at reforming prison populations. That said, last year Pew estimated
that a countervailing wave of "get-tough" policies would lead to an increase of nearly 200,000 inmates in the next five years—bringing us up to 1.7 million people in state and federal prisons by 2011. That means prisons will grow faster than the population at large. So, for now, a few oversight committees are nice gestures, but they're not going to cut it.
(Oh hell, I guess I'll link to Glenn Loury's great Boston Review article
—in case anyone's wondering why on earth they should care about an overbloated prison system.)