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Are Sentence Review Units a Way to Reduce Incarceration?

Posted January 28, 2020

Did you know that America’s prison population more than quadrupled over the last four decades? With more communities taking a ‘tough on crime’ stance toward offenders, especially repeat offenders, the number of people behind bars grew at a staggering rate.

According to the National Research Council and The Sentencing Project, “harsh sentencing laws like mandatory minimums, combined with cutbacks in parole release, have kept people in prison for longer periods of time. There has also been a historic rise in the use of life sentences: one in nine people in prison is now serving a life sentence, nearly a third of whom are sentenced to life without parole.”

There are tragic social costs for taking the most punitive stance possible, including family hardship, children growing up with absent parents, and offenders who grow old and sick while waiting out their sentences.

Advocates for prison reform point to one way to reduce prison populations: implement sentencing review units to reexamine long sentences, mandatory minimum sentences, and policies on the enforcement of drug laws.

Fulton County Introduces Conviction Integrity Unit

Across the country, District Attorneys’ offices are increasingly creating Conviction Integrity Units, one type of sentence review unit, to reexamine questionable convictions and to guard against future conviction error.

On January 8, 2020, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office and District Attorney (DA) Paul L. Howard, Jr. officially announced the start of its Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), the first-ever in a Southeastern United States DA Office. The Fulton County CIU is committed to thoroughly reviewing past convictions for credible claims of actual innocence, wrongful conviction and, where feasible, sentencing inequities.

One person has already begun a new life thanks to this new CIU. Darrell Hall was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in 1991. The amount in his possession equaled only the size of two sugar packets; however, because it was Hall’s second felony offense, Georgia law required that he be sentenced to life in prison. Serving nearly 30 years behind bars for the equivalent of two sugar packets seemed like more than enough punishment for Hall, who is only 52 years old. After the CIU reviewed his case, it approved him to be released in December, and he recently received an offer to work at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.

These types of sentencing review units appear to be a reasonable and fair way of giving offenders another shot at leading productive lives, as long as they pose no current threat to public safety – a second chance, if you will.

At A 2nd Chance Bail Bonds, we’re big believers in second chances and work hard every day to help our clients navigate some of life’s most challenging moments. If you’re an attorney with a client in need, let us know how we can work alongside your efforts to get them their fair day in court.

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