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This Reform Needs Compromise

Distracted as we are by partisanship, we must not miss a genuine opportunity ?for compromise and progress in criminal justice policy.

Criminal justice policy -- like many public policies -- seems to be susceptible to the swing of the pendulum. Decades ago we cracked down on crime, adopting "three strikes and you're out" mandatory sentencing, lengthier sentences, more reliance on solitary confinement. More juveniles were tried as adults and subject for some crimes to life imprisonment.

Now the pendulum is swinging back. Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, agree that our policy may have become too harsh, too punitive. "Three strikes and you're out" and solitary confinement may do more harm than good.

Now, it is good that we raise these questions, but we must not forget important lessons. Consider just two:

  • First, some offenders will recidivate and some crimes are worse than others, so we must be thoughtful and draw distinctions in sentencing and parole.
  • Second, mandatory minimum sentences were themselves adopted in order to prevent prejudicial and arbitrary sentencing by judges with an ax to grind.

So we should embrace reform?. But those reformers who charge that our current policy was adopted in an era of irrational emotion ought not to commit the same error in reverse. One swing of the pendulum should not be replaced by another.
I'm Bob Evans, and that's my perspective.

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