Published On: Thu, Jul 9th, 2015

Is Prison Reform Finally On Its Way To US?

Prison reform has been a topic of much discussion for US citizens for a long time, yet so far, nothing has really been done about it on a national scale. But, with the prison system under scrutiny after criticisms from high profile individuals, are we about to see a change? In this article, we’re going to round up all the news that could point to a brighter future.

Prison

Court Supreme Justice Kennedy Calls For Change

Solitary confinement is one of the most brutal methods employed by prisons and has been the subject of many previous campaigns. However, the use of this punishment may be up for review in the not too distant future. After the Davis v. Ayala trial in June of this year, Justice Kennedy called the practice “madness itself.” After those comments, it would be no surprise to see a challenge to end solitary confinement. The Justice – like many before him – asks if it is helpful or worth the human toll. After all, vulnerable people are held in these institutions, including pregnant women, the mentally ill, and juveniles.

Safe, Accountable, Fair and Effective Justice Act

At the end of June this year, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner and Bobby Scott revealed the SAFE Justice Act. The aim of the Act is to address the enormous costs to America’s overgrown prison system. The Act is two years in the making, with the two congressmen starting research on their papers in the spring of 2013. They looked at state reforms across the country that have included lowering incarceration and found striking results.

On average, those states that reduced sentencing enjoyed $4.6 billion of saving from imprisonment. Also, worth noting is that each of the 32 states that reduced imprisonment saw a drop in crime rates. The bill approaches crime in a number of new ways, including reforming the entire process of sentencing. You can read more about it over at Politico.com.

If the Act has the desired effect, it may help to point the US towards a prison system more similar those found in Europe. Despite having much of the world’s wealth within its borders, the United States still sends an unusually high number of its citizens to prison. Reform has been a priority for by many high profile figures, including Hillary Clinton. In April of this year, the Presidential candidate stated she wished to see “and end to the era of mass incarceration.”

Psychiatric Evaluations Playing More Of A Role

Mental health is a tricky subject when it comes to crime. Over half of all prison populations in the country are prisoners with mental health issues. Specialists can often be found in prisons working with inmates, although funding is too stretched to offer much in the way of positive results.

However, it’s in sentencing that change may come from. With more forensic psychiatry testimonials taking place in court – as evidenced by many high-profile cases – it is likely to have an impact on reform. And, with news that the Colorado shooter could be set free because of psychological issues, it is clear that alternative methods should be explored.

Prison Escape Prompts Action

The big news out of New York in the past month has undoubtedly been about the two escaped convicts that broke out of a maximum-security prison. The results of that escape have seen calls for tougher rules to be applied. However, those calls have been criticized by correctional experts.

In years gone by, the action to implement a harsh regime may have happened at speed, but it seems that prison officials are taking their time to make their decision. According to reports, there have been accusations of violence and staff brutality, as well as an inadequate number of guards available. While there will almost certainly be repercussions for prisoner incentives, it is unlikely to be as harsh as they would have been only ten years ago.

Civil Liberties Union Speaks Out On Sentencing

The ACLU has a long history of campaigning for prison reform, and things seem to be picking up a head of steam. According to a report, they claim that thousands of American citizens are incarcerated for unnecessarily long sentences. The result is overcrowded prisons that cannot hope to address the primary goals of justice. Which are, of course, to repair the harm done by criminals and to restore them to law-abiding citizens.

California Rebuilds Its Prison Service

Another item of interest in prison reform comes from California. The state has been building expansions to their jails to allow for 10,000 new beds in the coming thirteen years. The work has started after the United States Supreme Court made a judgment on the state’s ability to manage the prison population. The suicide rate was more than 80 percent higher in some of its facilities than the national average. And, in some cases inmates were sleeping in gymnasiums as there was no more room in the prisons.

California has also started work on many probation service centers, which will be used to keep low-level offenders out of prison. These centers will provide former inmates with the opportunity to get treatment. Substance abuse and mental health issues will all be looked at, amongst other things. It remains to be seen how successful the project will be, but having been in existence since 2011, there should be much to chew over in the not so distant future.

Clearly, prison reform isn’t going to happen overnight. However, while calls for a closer look at the United States prison policies have largely remained underground in past times, there does seem to be a sea change of sorts. Of course, where there is money to be made, there will always be resistance. But with such high profile projects and movements taking place, it is likely to happen at some point in the future. And, if that leads to less crowded prisons and more inmates returning to civilian life to reoffend, then there may just be a glimmer of hope.