As of 2016, there were 206,268 people in the United States serving a life-sentence or a de-facto life sentence of over 50 years. It would take an 80% reduction in incarceration to get us to the level of other Western democracies. There is no way to make a significant reduction in incarceration without addressing these extreme sentences that keep people in prison for decades.
Our panelists on this webinar took on the discussion of how to reduce extreme sentences and tackle the crisis of mass incarceration directly. They talked about what extreme sentencing is, why it matters and what tools are available to address the problem.
In order to end mass incarceration and decrease the 2.2 million people in prison and jails, we must end the use of extreme sentencing and institute mechanisms to review past sentences.
For example, one new tool that some prosecutors have is a Sentence Review Unit: a small team of lawyers, investigators and others reviewing past cases to determine if a sentence is so excessive that it demands a second look by the prosecutors office.
Many prosecutors support Sentence Review Units, but in most states the excessive sentences they find could not be changed, even if everyone agrees they are excessive. The DA has no mechanism to request that the sentence be reduced. And the judge would have no power to reduce the sentence. California and Washington D.C. have passed laws to break down these barriers and allow for sentence review and were calling on other states to follow.