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This Week in Mass Incarceration: A Signature Week for Criminal Justice Reform

  • Abigail Finkelman
August 16, 2013

Welcome to the inaugural post of “This Week in Mass Incarceration.” Each week, we will be rounding up the latest news on criminal justice reform and mass incarceration.

This week, criminal justice reform may have had its “Best Week Ever” (at least since the August passing of the federal Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity in crack cocaine sentencing). Thanks to Monday's Attorney General speech advocating sentencing reform,  the hashtag #massincarceration nearly tripled overnight on Twitter. Hopefully this is the beginning of a broader public discourse that puts pressure on state and federal lawmakers to act and bring real reform to our criminal justice system.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtags #criminaljustice, #overincarceration, and #massincarceration.

Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Prison Reform Strategy

At the American Bar Association’s annual meeting Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a dramatic shift in federal criminal justice policy. Of particular note are his policy changes regarding mandatory minimum sentences and compassionate release. Currently, sentences are determined solely on the basis of how much of a certain drug a defendant was carrying. Under the new guidelines, prosecutors can consider whether to include that amount in the charges filed, thus keeping nonviolent, low-level offenders from being subjected to harsh federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Holder also urged the federal Bureau of Prisons to increase the window for dying prisoners to apply for release, giving them an extra six months at home and saving taxpayers money. For more insight into Holder’s new policies, check out Justice Program Director Inimai Chettiar’s op-ed in U.S. News & World Report, published alongside Senators Patrick Leahy and Rand Paul and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

Federal Court Rules Controversial Stop-and-Frisk Policy Tactic Unconstitutional

Perhaps just as sweeping of a change is federal judge Scheindlin’s ruling on stop-and-frisk. As implemented, the stop-and-frisk program has been disproportionately applied to black and Hispanic young men. Scheindlin found that the program functions as a form of racial profiling and violates civil rights. Her appointment of an independent, outside monitor to oversee the program is even more welcome. Though she did not actually order the elimination of stop-and-frisk, she put an end to the manner New York City had been implementing it for the past several years. Read more here.