11 July 2006

Justice Kennedy on Criminal Sentencing

While sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness, I'm not the only one who thinks that prison sentences have gotten too long, largely as a result of the "war on drugs", and are costing society too much, when alternatives would ber a better choice. Republican Supreme Court appointee Justice Kennedy feels the same way:

During a 2003 hearing on the Supreme Court's budget, Kennedy told Congress that "too many people are behind bars in America, and prison sentences are often too long."

He delivered the same message at the American Bar Association's annual meeting in San Francisco that year.

"It is no defense if our current prison system is more the product of neglect than of purpose," Kennedy said. "Out of sight, out of mind is an unacceptable excuse for a prison system that incarcerates over 2 million human beings in the United States." . . . .

On Monday, he reiterated his views to the 9th Circuit delegates.

Reciting statistics he used during the ABA speech, Kennedy said that sentences in the United States are eight times more severe than comparable sentences in Western European countries.

The pressure for stronger sentences "is sick," Kennedy said[.]

No one disputes that recidivism is a problem and that some violent criminals need to serve long prison terms. But, we have become too locked into a false dichotomy between probation sentences that amount to no punishment at all, and draconian prison sentences. There are other alternatives. And, we ignore accidents waiting to happen when we fail to address the root causes of the crimes committed by current inmates, like mental illness, substance abuse, lack of education, and lack of employability, and then release them at the end of their terms unrehabilitated.

Americans are not less capable of redemption than their European peers.

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