Thursday, August 11, 2022

ABA Adopts Ten Principles to Reduce Mass Incarceration

The House of Delegates took aim at mass incarceration at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago, as reported in the ABA Journal.

Resolution 604 adopts the ABA Ten Principles on Reducing Mass Incarceration and urges all legislative and governmental bodies to implement policies consistent with these guidelines. According to the Working Group on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System, which sponsored the resolution, the principles build on existing ABA policies related to sentencing, pretrial detention, and court fines and fees; and they outline crucial steps that jurisdictions can take to fully reform their criminal legal systems.

In moving the resolution, Robert Weiner, the chair of the working group, pointed out that the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of its incarcerated individuals.

Weiner added that those in U.S. prisons and jails are disproportionately people of color, citing statistics showing that one of every three Black men born in 2021 can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their lives. He noted that this disrupts families, perpetuates poverty, leads to discrimination in hiring and hinders upward mobility.

“The current system of mass incarceration is costly, ineffective, unfair, racially discriminatory, socially destructive and legally infirm,” Weiner said. “It is time we tackle this problem.”

The working group includes the following in its 10 principles:

• Limit the use of pretrial detention.

• Increase the use of diversion programs and other alternatives to prosecution and incarceration.

• Abolish mandatory minimum sentences.

• Expand the use of probation, community release and other alternatives to incarceration, and create the fewest restrictions possible while promoting rehabilitation and protecting public safety.

• End incarceration for the failure to pay fines or fees without first holding an ability-to-pay hearing and finding that a failure to pay was willful.

• Adopt “second look” policies that require regular review and, if appropriate, reduction of lengthy sentences.

• Broaden opportunities for incarcerated individuals to reduce their sentences for positive behavior or completing educational, training or rehabilitative programs.

• Increase opportunities for incarcerated individuals to obtain compassionate release.

• Evaluate the effectiveness of prosecutors based on their impact on public safety and not their number of convictions.

• Evaluate the effectiveness of probation and parole officers based on their success in helping probationers and parolees and not their revocation rates.

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