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Playbook for Change? States Reconsider Mandatory Sentences

NCJ Number
Ram Subramanian; Ruth Delaney
Date Published
February 2014
28 pages
In this policy report, the Vera Institute's Center on Sentencing and Corrections reviews State-level mandatory sentencing reforms since 2000, raises questions about their impact, and offers recommendations to jurisdictions considering similar efforts for the future.
Since 2000, at least 29 States have rolled back mandatory sentences in 32 bills passed in the last 5 years. Legislation has focused on adjusting penalties for non-violent drug offenses. This has been done by expanding judicial discretion under so-called "safety valve" provisions; limiting automatic sentence enhancements; and repealing or revising mandatory minimum sentences. To date, there has been little research on the impact of these recent State reforms on incarcerated populations, recidivism rates, or cost in building on progress made thus far, there are a number of steps policymakers can take to ensure that sentencing reform efforts fulfill their promise, are sustainable, and protect public safety. The seven recommendations are as follows: Link proposed policies to research; include stakeholders in policy development; match proposed policies with available resources in the community; define eligibility requirements clearly and match these to the policy goals; consider whether a proposed reform should apply retroactively; track and analyze the impact on system outcomes; and examine the impact on system dynamics. 4 tables and 55 notes