This issue of Human Rights explores punishment issues with significant implications for law, legal processes, and individual rights.
It is my honor and privilege to serve as chair of the Section for 2011–12. My hope is that this will be a year that we engage those of you who are members of the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities (IRR) to work on projects in areas that interest you. I also hope that we will begin to engage those who are not members to join us in our work.
We should look for more effective ways to give convicted individuals a fair chance to reintegrate and become productive members of society. Consider the second-chance story of Darrell Langdon, who tried to get his old job back at Chicago Public Schools but had to rely on Cabrini Green Legal Aid to do so.
As budget crises sweep the nation, what it means to cut back on incarceration and penal harshness is changing. Recent legislation offers examples of recalibrating incentives to foster rehabilitation and how to integrate former inmates into the community.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission has been hard at work since 1987 amending the sentencing guidelines to narrow the disparity between white-collar offenses and such crimes as those involving violence, stealing, and firearms. While lessening the disparity between white-collar and blue-collar crime is a good thing, there is still an unhesitating and excessive use of incarceration as a remedy for crime.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently voted to apply retroactively the federal sentencing guidelines amendment that allows federal crack cocaine offenders who meet certain criteria to have their sentences reduced.
With budget cuts looming, several states are considering privatizing prisons as a way to cut costs. In 2011, legislators in Florida, Ohio, and Louisiana introduced laws that would greatly expand the use of private prisons. Human rights activists pushed back by emphasizing that privatization does not yield cost savings, may lead to corruption, and undermines sentencing reform.
The U.S. incarceration crisis has focused increasing attention on the problems of special populations in corrections: women, LGBT prisoners, juveniles, the elderly, and the mentally ill. ABA policy, including the Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners, attempts to protect the health and safety of these groups. However, such reform measures are not wholly uncontroversial, even among human rights advocates.
Hopefully, one day lawmakers will pass legislation that will significantly reduce the collateral consequences of an arrest or conviction for youth in this country. Until that day, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and advocates should be keenly aware of those repercussions when working with any child that has gone through the juvenile justice system.
Two cases in the Supreme Court’s current term will get the justices into atypical punishment issues. One case involves life sentences for juvenile offenders who commit murder, and the other involves liability for employees at privately run federal prisons.
This Human Rights Hero’s extraordinary life includes proving the innocence of a man who spent six years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, teaching at NYU Law School since 1998, inspiring and training dozens of young attorneys, and winning the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award in 1995.