A rare detailed plan to slash the 2.3 million population in the United States prisons and jails was published recently in a special issue of the journal Criminology and Public Policy.
The author is law professor Michael Tonry of the University of Minnesota. He laid out what he called a “blueprint” to remodel the American sentencing system to end mass incarceration.
“The severe sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s must be repealed or greatly cut back” and “meaningful limits, scaled to offense seriousness, must be placed on the lengths of lawful sentences,” said Tonry. He proposes:
Three strikes and mandatory minimum sentence laws must be repealed or at least narrowed in scope.
Life without parole sentences must be eliminated.
Repeal “truth in sentencing” laws, i.e., those reducing or eliminating good-time credits for certain crimes, such as California Penal Code Sections 2933.1 and 2933.2.
Sentences must match the seriousness of the crimes. Tonry proposes minimum sentences of one, two, four, six, eight or 10 years for serious offenses and longer for a small number of very serious cases.
Sentences must be embodied in sentencing guidelines established by state panels.
Every state should have a parole guideline system.
Every state should cut its incarceration total in half by 2020.
Inmates generally should be eligible for parole after serving five years, three years for those 35 or older.
However, Tonry also doubts that there is current political will to support his blueprint. He notes that there have been only “minor, marginal” amendments to sentencing laws by the states despite the high rates of incarceration.