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Argument for criminal reforms broad-based, compelling

At some future date, students in North Carolina and nationally immersed in historical details regarding the country's criminal justice system might be flatly perplexed by this huge irony: For decades, the prevalent view that locking people up at progressively higher levels and for increasingly longer prison terms would reduce crime actually spawned the opposite result.

The numbers to support that are at once, well, arresting, and always have been. As noted in a recent New York Times article on American criminal sentencing policies and the urgent need for reform, the crime recidivism rate is far higher for inmates released into society after lengthy incarceration terms than it is for defendants who spent time in alternative programs.

Such as drug courts, for example, or various support programs. Evidence has amply shown that alternative-to-prison outcomes (or far shorter lock-up terms) in select instances -- especially for nonviolent and first-time offenders -- facilitate social reintegration most optimally. Defendants who have access to vocational and rehabilitation centers, to work programs, to counselors and so forth typically reoffend at markedly lower rates than do persons who simply walk out of prison after decades behind bars.

Statistics relevant to American prison sentencing that are centrally spurring clarion calls for reform presently are always shocking.

To wit: Reportedly, the U.S. houses about 22% of the globe's prison population, despite comprising only about 5% of the world's population. And we're spending about $80 billion annually keeping our millions of state and federal prisoners locked up.

It's figures like that, coupled with clear evidence that there is a better way, that are spurring material reform efforts aimed at fundamentally reshaping the American criminal justice system.

Time will tell regarding the details, of course. The New York Times piece signals that upcoming changes could be meaningfully significant, provided that an element of bipartisan support presently existing persists and is resolutely acted upon.

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