A few days back the WSJ reported that the US Sentencing Commission, the body that recommended penalties for possession of crack and cocaine be equalized, is about to come out with new recommendations concerning prison alternatives.

As the WSJ reports, “Exactly what the U.S. Sentencing Commission might recommend isn’t clear. Possible models include bodies such as drug courts, which place offenders in treatment instead of prison.” The Drug War Chronicle doesn’t have much to add to the WSJ report but they do report that the commission heard, “lots of talk about drug courts, residential and community corrections, and other alternatives to incarceration.” And they write that “It does seem clear that the commission wants to reduce the flow of new inmates before they get to the prison gates.” Any movement in this direction could only be positive.

Surprisingly, very few news outlets have picked on the WSJ story or the commissions impending recommendations. Unsurprisingly, the Justice Department is less than enthusiastic about the news, spokeswoman Laura Sweeney had this to say, "we do not believe the use of alternatives should be expanded without further rigorous research showing their effectiveness in promoting public safety." If only that same standard were applied to the movement behind increasing mandatory minimums, our country would look a lot different.

Hopefully there will be some good reporting on the subject soon, if not the tone of the debate is bound to be colored by the likes of Michael Rushford, the president of a “victims rights” organization in California, who was quoted by the WSJ as saying, “The criminal justice system tried to turn toward alternatives in the 1960s and ‘it took 30 years to dig our way out, and the morgues were full during that 30-year period. We don’t need to repeat history to relearn this lesson.’” A pretty apocalyptic diatribe there, a bit at odds with the fact that according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only, “10% of Federal inmates and 49% of State inmates,” are locked up for violent offenses.



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