Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Smarter Sentencing

Last week, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote an opinion piece for the Miami Herald on the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410), a bill described as “a modest first step in reforming our nation’s broken sentencing policies.” He wrote, in part:
Catholics and other Christians around the world take comfort knowing that the “Lord never tires of forgiving us, never!” as Pope Francis has said. But beyond our personal failings, we also know that there is brokenness in society. This brokenness is perhaps no more evident than in our nation’s tragic rate of incarceration.

The United States imprisons more people per capita than any other nation in the world at a cost of approximately $80 billion annually. In 2011, approximately 7 million people were under some form of correctional control with 2.2 million incarcerated in federal, state or local prisons.
. . .
Several factors have contributed to these shocking statistics. Mandatory minimum sentencing, increased criminalization of nonviolent offenses and tough-on-crime policies that introduce youth offenders to the prison system at younger and younger ages all play a role in the increasing number of incarcerations. The growth in recent years of the for-profit private prison industry has also, some argue, created a perverse incentive that favors incarceration instead of other alternatives.

Rigid sentences are not only costly but often prove detrimental to the good of families and communities. Prolonged incarceration contributes to higher rates of recidivism, family instability and poverty. Punishment in order to promote human life and dignity should promote the rehabilitation of the wrongdoer and his restoration as a productive member of society.

People from diverse political and religious perspectives are beginning to question our nation’s harsh sentencing practices. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have introduced The Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410), which seeks to implement modest reforms of mandatory minimum sentences by expanding judicial sentencing options specifically for nonviolent drug offenses.

The bill would permit reductions in mandatory sentences for certain drug crimes and allow crack cocaine offenders to seek lighter sentences under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act.
You can read more here.

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