Prison Sentencing Sentencing Reform

In the Era of Criminal Justice Reform, the “Next Step” Must Be Reducing “Excessive” Punishments for Violent Crimes

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

While the First Step Act and a handful of legislative changes at the state level have furthered the bipartisan effort to reduce the number of people imprisoned for drug-related crimes over the last decade, the nation must move on to the “next steps” to combat mass incarceration — ending “excessive” punishments for violent crimes, according to a new report from Dr. Nazgol Ghandnoosh, a senior research analyst at The Sentencing Project.

Reforms meant to reverse some of the damage done by the War on Drugs effectively reduced the number of people incarcerated for drug crimes by 22 percent between 2007 and 2015.

In contrast, the number of people in state and federal prisons for violent crimes has dropped by 3 percent since the number peaked in 2009, despite the fact that violent crime rates have dropped precipitously since the 1990s. The number of people serving life sentences continues to grow.

Nearly half of the nation’s prison population is made up of people serving time for violent offenses, including murder, assault, robbery, and rape. (Yet, Vice and The Marshall Project report that in certain states, some crimes classified as violent are actually non-violent, like embezzelment, possessing large amounts of marijuana, attempted suicide, entering a house that’s not yours, and illegal gun possession.)

“Prison terms have grown longer for this population despite evidence that long sentences: 1) incapacitate people in old age when they no longer pose a public safety threat, 2) have limited deterrent value since people who commit crimes do not expect to be caught, and 3) detract from more effective investments in public safety,” the report states. “These investments include expanding health insurance coverage to prevent and treat substance use disorder, expanding enrollment in high-quality early education to improve young people’s educational prospects, and promoting residential mobility programs to reduce neighborhood segregation.”

The report points to specific reforms in 19 states, as well as several federal reforms, that can serve as models for the nation.

In California, for example, a new law has severely restricted the scope of the state’s “felony murder rule.”

Prior to 2019, under California’s felony murder rule, individuals involved in serious crimes that resulted in someone’s death faced murder charges as if they were the killer, even if they had no intent or knowledge that a person would be injured or killed, or that a weapon was present.

Under the new law, SB 1437, only individuals who actually kill, who intend to kill, aid the actual murderer, or who show “reckless indifference to human life” during the course of committing a serious felony that results in murder will face murder charges. (There’s one major caveat, however. If the victim is a law enforcement officer, the old felony murder rule still applies.)

Many states have raised the age of juvenile court jurisdictions to keep more kids out of the adult court system, where they face longer sentences for the same crimes.

The U.S. Supreme Court and several jurisdictions, including California, have also worked to reduce harsh juvenile life-without-parole sentences.

In 2013, former Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 260, a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who committed murder before the age of 18 and were sentenced to life-without-parole. In 2015, a follow-up bill SB 261, expanded the age of eligibility for early parole hearings to include lifers whose crimes were committed before the age of 23. The state raised the age further–to 26–in 2018, with AB 1308.

Brown also commuted the sentences of 284 people during his final year in office, some of which were life sentences for people who were ineligible for parole consideration.

These and other efforts to reduce penalties for violent offenses offer models that should be further built on to reduce the nation’s reliance on incarceration.

“Excessive penalties for violent crimes are not only ineffective—incapacitating people who no longer pose a public safety threat and producing little deterrent
effect—they also divert investment from more effective public safety programs,” the report states.

32 Comments

  • “Excessive” punishment for “violent” crimes. Are you liberals for real? You have a fundamental misunderstanding of what a tiny segment of our population is doing to normal human beings.

    How about prison/jail inmates start thinking about all the term enhancements they could face instead of getting half-time for this and term reductions for that. Take the sting further out of being wild animals on the street and stand by to stand by.

    Oh, and can we get a home address list of all you liberals who want these crooks released early? You know, just to see where we can parole them to. Or does NIMBY apply? LOL

  • Um, were you supposed to print this article on April 1st? The reason violent crime decreased in the 90s was because of 3 strikes, gang enhancement laws, and other tough on crime legislation. How can you say harsh penalties for violent crimes have proven ineffective? Makes no sense. But I’m probably the misinformed one. Great article. I hope you get your wish. And i hope those individuals move in droves to your neighborhood after they’re released from prison for the violent crimes they committed. You can have them over to bake Christmas cookies and make homemade egg nog around the holidays.

  • Unbelievable…..this blog, as usual, is a joke. The problem is many liberals have never been a victim of a crime, let alone a violent crime. They simply do not understand what is like to live in a crime ridden gang infested community and be terrozized daily. Most, hard working and good citizens in these communities beg for tough laws and harsh sentences, but they are not heard. They are the silent majority drowned out by the loud mouth liberals who just don’t understand. These left wingers think the know what’s best, but they don’t even know what they don’t know!!

    • Wow Dulce! What a blast from the past as a Tanaka supporter when you and the commentator “Boomer” were taken to task by many in 2014 & 2015. Amazing that you show up on the blog that you love to hate.

  • Dose of Reality/No Dog – Please! The sky is not falling and it wont fall. What we did in this country, in this state with regards to crime and incarceration is absurd. I think only a few folks, mostly cops and republicans, usually the same thing, believe the tough-on-crime nonsense we have been engaging in for the last 40 years, especially as it relates to drugs. And, what is this nonsense of having them over or providing addresses? I imagine you have not been incarcerated, though you may have committed a crime, and I still do not want you over my house. That is not how we make policy. And, No Dog, yes, you are misinformed.

    • Good post. Last 30 years, crime went down. Violent crime went down. Long term sentencing had a lot to do with that. Why would any reasonable person want violent offenders released into the community early. And u know exactly what I mean by inviting these folks to live in your neighborhood. I dont want them living in mine. I dont want them at the parks my kids play at. I dont want them at the stores I shop at. I want them in prison to serve their sentence. And I dont apologize for that. Bye bye

  • CF; While the debate about prison sentencing goes on, Drug sentencing and the restructuring of violent crime sentences are two very different issues.

    Try to stay on topic little buddy.

    P.S. Trump has done more for black people in regards to this issue that Obama ever did.

    • Ironic that 3.7 times as many people use illicit prescription drugs other than heroin.

      White people addicted to drugs are perceived as victims in need of treatment while Blacks are perceived as criminals who are sent to jail.

      One of several biases that stands true is that there is no equitable access to addiction intervention that promote better health outcomes and decrease stigmatization.
      Much more can be said however open eyes can see the disparity.

      BTW “Ownership” Your tidbit comparing Trump to Obama is not substantiated and the whole world as we know it. already knows that there is no comparison, period. History speaks for itself.
      Save your cheerleading for Trump to another thread.

  • Meanwhile, in Santa Anita 23 horses have died. I’m waiting for this “hot off the press” story to appear on WitnessLA. Seems to me the horses get more coverage than anything else, besides trump.

    How can we seek any kind of reform, crime seems to be constant. Letting people out or keeping them in doesn’t work. Yesterday a officer was shot, a mother was killed, a person was shot in a vehicle, and so on. Is that not a problem for any liberal or conservative. It is for me!

    All these graphs, charts, and stories have the their own bias. Let’s stop blowing smoke up everyone’s ass and come up with something. REAL! I don’t know what the solution is.

    But gun control don’t work, proposition 47 didn’t work depending on who you talk too, and future criminal justice reform may or may not work. I wish Taylor would do some real no buttered up investigation on this.

  • Brother: Agree 100% about there being no comparison. Obama is right up there with Carter as being the worst and most useless presidents of all time.

    Trump will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most positively accomplished.

    It’s actually ironic, Obama is very likable as a person and Trump is abhorrent. But unfortunately for Obama, likability doesn’t necessarily make to good at something.

    • You’re entitled to your opinions as I shake my head saying “if that’s what you think”……….

  • I can see where you would be conflicted and incredibly disappointed. Obama was the first black president who was supposed to bring some light to some communities that have been forsaken by so many. Both sides of the aisle, black and white, all unable to make any type of significant positive change.

    Then comes this billionaire white guy with his pompous and sometimes incredibly obnoxious personality who does more for the black community than anyone since MLK.

    I get how that would be hard to swallow.

    • Again your opinion and as much as you would like to and think you do, you could never speak on behalf of Black people.

      No apologies for bursting your bubble in which you breathe and live.

  • Speaking for black people? The numbers don’t lie my friend. His actions don’t lie. Yet all you can do is deflect.

    Record black employment numbers.

    Criminal Justice Reform that Obama, Jackson and Sharpton couldn’t touch in 8 years. Your buddy Clinton increased penalties for crying out loud. Your Democratic leaders are your enemies, not Trump or the GOP.

    By the way, name one deed or statement that makes you feel Trump is a racist or is bad for the black community.

    • Never said or implied that Trump is a racist or that he was bad or good for the Black community.

      Your opinionated response will never engulf me into your web of typical banter and bullshit.

      When you brought up Jackson & Sharpton in the same sentence of Criminal Justice Reform, I knew then you’re either stupid, clueless or throwing out bait for someone who doesn’t know any better. As for me, that definitely had me laughing.

  • Nice deflection….. again.

    Remember Brother, you called me out for a response I gave to CF. I hadn’t said squat to you. So then I throw out some facts about your “Second Coming” and your Anti-Christ and now you’re the one saying you won’t be baited? That’s just funny.

    Again, nice deflection, but your lack of sophistication, facts backing your quick snipes or anything even relevant to the conversation YOU started is glaring through.

  • ☝Why criminal reform will never work. It’s literally two sides that for thousands of reasons don’t agree. Some them who are on the forefront and deal with crime everyday and those that are on the forefront seeking reform everyday.

    I don’t believe it’s possible, but when will we agree as human beings that there needs to personal responsibility for everyone one either side to find a truthful solution. Not a stat driven graph, nor a law enforcement officer in Predominantly minority neighborhood.

    We need adults from all perspectives that can shed away their bias, be receptive, and acknowledge the wrongs/rights!

    Wishful thinking. Celeste or Taylor can it be done!

  • Ownership, let us remember, as I mentioned to you before, that just because you no not use the N-word does not mean you are not racist. Trump is a racist, and an idiot at that. I would have more respect for you if you said, yes, he is an idiot, but he is our idiot. He may know little to nothing about history, geography, and can not put a coherent sentence together, but he is our man. I would respect you more if you admitted, yes, he is an idiot but he wants to close the borders and get every person of color out of here and I want that. I would have more respect for you then. And to give you a few examples of what I consider Trump’s racist proclivities, please let me know if you think the following are racist:
    1. Demanding Obama’s birth certificate because he believed he was born in Kenya. Is this not racist.
    2. Claiming there were “fine people on both sides” when a redneck ran over folks in Charlottesville.
    3. Claiming that “Mexico was sending their worst people.”
    4. Claiming that the judge in the Trump University (Trump and University in the same sentence is funny) was biased towards him because the Judge was Mexican and he, Trump, wanted to build a way. Is this not racist? Really?
    I can go on, but I welcome your views on whether such comments are racists.

    Also, just to let you know, the economy was doing well and unemployment had consistently been going down since shortly after Obama took office. Consistently. Take a look at where we were in 2007 and 2008 when Bush was president, and where it was when it was handed to Trump. And, I think Clinton pandered to the white working class with his welfare reform and tough-on-crime stance and did not help the people of color. No doubt. But, you must admit, Trump is still a bigger idiot. I agree, Obama did not do enough for black or brown people, but he did more than the racist billionaire. And, you must admit, there is a big difference in intellect between Obama and Trump. Compared to Obama, trump is mentally retarded.

    And, there are more black people than Jackson and Sharpton. They are yesterday’s news. The folks pushing justice reform, police accountability, decriminalization of drugs, etc, is a whole different crowd, a younger crowd. You are dating yourself and showing your ignorance. Perhaps you did not know, but when Sharpton and Jackson showed up at some of the Ferguson protests, they were booed and given the boot by the brothers. They are yesterday’s news, get with the times. That memo from Glen Beck you have that claims Jackson and Sharpton speak on behalf of black people is fake news.

    • C F,
      Your last paragraph concerning Jackson and Sharpton is exactly why I laughed at “Ownership’s” failed attempt to be current and relevant.
      It emphatically proved why “Ownership” is not only clueless but still stuck in yesteryear.

    • CF – Well said re Trump. And indeed, the list of his other lies or insulting/juvenile comments to others could go on for miles. Completely unqualified to be President. Give me President Obama any time, any day

  • I’m pretty sure this article was about criminal justice reform and excessive punishment. See what I mean ☝. Now we are arguing Trump, Obama, Sharpton, etc…

    Not anyone of us speaks for anyone else. Celeste can we shut down threads that are not pertinent to the topic at hand!

  • Demanding Obama’s BC was not racist. It was a ridiculous sideshow, but based on politics and not the color of his skin.

    There were very fine people on both sides of that protest. True statement. Some wanted to simply protect history and it’s relics. Not all were Nazi RedNecks which I despise more than you.

    Mexico is sending its worst people. Inaccurate but not racist. Cuba did the same thing. Mexico would do everything to keep their college grads, doctors, dentists and business people. They could care less about their citizens who would come here on hop on the Dole. Unfortunate but fact, not racist.

    I’ve said 10 times that Trump is socially inept. But he’s not a racist. He could care less how much melatonin someone has, as long as they’re law abiding and productive.

    And Sharpton is VERY MUCH relevant. To deny that is just plain ignorant or dismissive.

    • Ownership, I couldn’t help but notice that your last retort to CF is similar to a domestic violence victim, specifically a battered wife. When questioned or confronted, they have an excuse for every obvious black eye, broken nose or bruise.

      Think about that as we conclude your conversation of unrelated subject matter and remain focused on the next go round.

  • Cf was funnier when she use to fly off the handle and go into full on liberal homicide fantasies. Now she just repeats tired old CNN MSNBC fake news, so boring.

  • It is readily apparent that a clash of cultures is afoot with regard to criminal justice reform. Whites place a premium on low crime neighborhoods, and welcome a strong police presence. Blacks, on the other hand, seem constantly bothered by pro-active policing in their neighborhoods, which is necessary to curtail violent crime.

    Liberal progressive activists, eager to win votes from POC, work to diminish hard fought gains won by pro-active policing strategies by advocating reduced sentences for violent offenders, as detailed in this article. They do so because the upwardly mobile hipster enclaves they live in enjoy low violent crime rates. Thus, having more violent criminals on the streets won’t effect them in the end based on this fact.

  • Out Of Touch: The 3 people you mentioned are key figures in the topic at hand.

    Obama squandered an incredible opportunity and brought us back to the 1950’s, Sharpton capitalized on the ensuing chaos and then Trump came in and actually passed a bipartisan Justice Reform bill.

    See, we’re back on topic

  • @ownership. Yeah I see that, but article is about criminal justice reform, not them. Just saying. Can we use other examples or valid information form either side. The above rhetoric is boring both ways!

    • @ Out of Touch,
      Great head’s up to those who tend to venture off subject.
      The sidebar presented by Ownership is for another time and thread.

  • Grandstand: How is debating the actions of 3 polarizing figures who directly effect the core issues of this subject matter “venturing off subject”??

    Please explain, is it a case where my facts just to fit your agenda.

    • @ Ownership, Don’t take my response to “Out of Touch” out of context and don’t take it personal as I have no agenda.
      I simply concur with him as to content.

  • @Ownership. I’m actually more conservative and come from law enforcement. I actually never agree with WitnessLA and their rhetoric, but that being said. Bringing Trump, Sharpton and Obama however polarizing also seems dull and unimaginative.

    I’m obviously against the criminal justice reforms that are proposed in this article and I feel the idea of this being solution is moronic.

    Like I’ve said in all my post I know it’s impossible, but I would like to imagine there can be a conversation from both sides that provides useful, receptive, and honest dialogue!

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