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Strong bipartisanship increasingly apparent on sentencing reform

Truly, what gives here?

Reportedly, the inmate population in 1980 in federal prisons across the United States was about 25,000. Today, federal facilities are bloated almost beyond measure, with the number of prisoners housed 35 years ago now having ballooned by eightfold, to more than 200,000.

Actually, most readers of this blog and other persons in North Carolina and across the country know quite well what factors have coalesced over decades to foster a prison-first -- and for a long time -- mentality among many state and national legislators and hard-on-crime proponents.

The War on Drugs was certainly seminal after it was announced and actively implemented in the 1970s. Central to that initiative's pro-incarceration philosophy was what became termed as "three-strikes" sentencing, which automatically equated to a life beyond bars for select offenders. Mandatory minimum sentencing has also brought harsh and sometimes incongruous results, with politicians of all stripes now acknowledging -- and often deploring -- the fact that high numbers of nonviolent first offenders convicted of low-level drug crimes have been incarcerated for lengthy terms.

Some of the hard outlines defining federal criminal sentencing now seem imminently poised for a softer adjustment. National legislators from both sides of the political aisle broadly endorsed material sentencing changes last week, with a national media article stating that their joint and cooperative efforts will likely lead to "the broadest overhaul of criminal justice in a generation."

The bottom line hoped for by many advocates of purposeful change is this: fewer instances of draconian sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders; a repeal of the three-strikes application; fewer crimes dealt with by mandatory minimums; the reduction of sentences for many inmates already incarcerated; and greater emphasis on rehabilitative programs rather than outcomes that are clearly and narrowly focused on punishment.

Hopefully the infusion of some much needed common sense into sentencing will fuel further reforms and bring about greater equity in the criminal justice system.

Such goals have long been endorsed and ardently pursued by defense attorneys dedicated to just outcomes and rehabilitative opportunities for their clients.

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