Roundup of New Laws Affecting Sentencing and Corrections

Earlier this week, the Sentencing Project released its annual roundup of new develoments in sentencing policy, The State of Sentencing 2010.  I always find these reports quite helpful.  As has been common in recent years, the overriding trend has been for states to look for ways to reduce corrections spending without compromising public safety.  Here are what the Sentencing Project characterizes as the “highlights”:

  • South Carolina equalized penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses as part of a sentencing reform package that garnered bipartisan support.
  • New Jersey modified its mandatory sentencing law that applies to convictions in “drug free school zones,” and now authorizes judges to impose sentences below the mandatory minimum in appropriate cases. Prior to the reform, more than 3,600 defendants a year were convicted under the statute, 96% of whom were African American or Latino.
  • Colorado modified its parole revocation policy in order to encourage greater use of substance abuse treatment programs. The legislation also requires that a portion of the cost savings from reduced incarceration be allocated to reentry services including employment assistance and substance abuse treatment.
  • Vermont established a goal of reducing the incarceration rate that directs a coalition of criminal justice stakeholders to work cooperatively to reduce the incarceration rate to 300 persons or less per 100,000 population, from the current rate of 370 per 100,000.

I am interested in the Vermont idea, which the Sentencing Project particularly holds out as a model for other states.  Although any particular numerical target will always be somewhat arbitrary, a specific goal as to which progress can be precisely, quantitatively measured may be very helpful to mobilize stakeholders. 

How does Wisconsin do?  Our imprisonment rate is 369 per 100,000 (this excludes those incarcerated in local jails).  How about we shoot for Minnesota’s rate of 189?