Kurt Kerns, Attorney at Law
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It's all about discretion


How do we determine an adequate sentence for a crime? In Kansas, it is done by the legislature and at the federal level, by Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Constitutionally, those bodies are empowered to make the determination. The deeper question is what makes an effective sentence.

During the last 40 years, sentences have grown in length. During the War on Drugs, this served the purpose of removing people from the streets and "sent a message" that if you did the crime, you will do the time. Much of the prosecution in those years focused on drug crimes, and this resulted in a great number of people being incarcerated.


The question of effectiveness of these sentences is becoming more important as states like Kansas realize that sending a 30-year-old to prison for 30 or 40 years means as they age, they are going to become progressively more expensive to house, as their healthcare costs rise.

Prison is, unsurprisingly, not a very healthy environment and maintaining large numbers of elderly inmates becomes much more expensive than similar numbers of younger inmates.

In the federal system, half of all inmates are there on drug charges and changes from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, reducing some of the sentences for drug crimes and making those revisions retroactive, will allow as many as 6,000 to be released next month.

While some may fear the potential for new crimes, the research suggests that those released early are not more likely to engage in new criminal activity than those who served their full sentence.

The more important task is determining what a full sentence should be.

Source: kansascity.com, "Thousands of drug inmates approved for early prison release," Eric Tucker, Associated Press, October 7, 2015

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