Magazine article Corrections Today

Congressman Addresses Crime and Sentencing Policy

Magazine article Corrections Today

Congressman Addresses Crime and Sentencing Policy

Article excerpt

Jan. 22-27, 2010

While ACA continues its work to improve the criminal justice system, crime continues to be a major problem facing our communities, said Rep. Robert (Bobby) C. Scott, chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, at the General Session II Luncheon. As a legislator at the state and national levels for more than 30 years, Scott has observed that when it comes to crime, public policymakers have a simple choice, "we can reduce crime or we can play politics."

Responding to crime, policymakers at the federal, state and local levels continue to focus on after-the-fact, politically appealing sound-bite approaches that have little-to-no impact on crime, Scott said. Worse yet, policies based on some of these slogans have actually increased crime. Take the sound bite, "Do the adult crime; do the adult time." Studies have shown that prosecuting and sentencing children as adults generally results in less time served, and puts youths at a greater risk of assault and even death in prison. In contrast, said Scott, the juvenile system requires school, counseling and other treatments, including family services.

"The emotionally appealing tough-on-crime approach has led to an incarceration binge in this country, the likes of which the world has never seen," Scott said. The U.S. now has more than 2.3 million people locked up in its prisons and jails, a 500 percent increase during the past 30 years. Scott also pointed out that 50 percent of inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, with the greatest percentage of those being for drug violations.

The Pew Center on the States reports that 1 in 31 adults in the U.S. is behind bars or on parole or probation, at a cost of $68 billion each year. In that same report, the Pew Center noted that any benefits from incarceration begin to have diminishing returns after about 300 per 100,000 people are imprisoned, and incarceration rates beyond 500 per 100,000 are counterproductive.

The U.S. also has some of the world's most severe sentences for crime, Scott said. Currently, the U.S. is the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison through life without the possibility of parole. The U.S. has more than 2,500 inmates serving life sentences for offenses committed when they were juveniles, some as young as 13 years old. Thirty-seven of those inmates are in the federal system. …

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