Sunday, July 15, 2007


In the post on the right on "So You Want to Start a Sentencing Commission?" I made some comments about commission composition that I've rethought a bit. I'd like to add an addendum. In my current post I'm on a couple of committees that have former inmates as members, people who have been where every inmate starts, lived it, and come out on the other side. Their insights, while admittedly a bit of inmate advocacy, have truly informed and aided our discussions and gotten at points those of us on this side of the bars would likely never have thought of, as demonstrated by the fact that we hadn't thought of them. So that's what I would add more force on now as a recommended member of any future commission--a former inmate.

With the possible exception of the academic member of some commissions (who may or may not have actually researched inmate life and thought) and some of the really in-tune correctional people, none of the usual suspects on a commission will have a grasp of what makes a crime-committer tick. The rest of us know what will stop us from committing crimes and would be severe punishment for us, but the results of the recidivism of the last couple of decades make clear that we, including those most likely to believe they know exactly how offenders think, have no clue what will actually make a real offender stop. It's like doctors trying to stop diseases without talking to patients. Former offenders can be tough love characters, believe me, with often exquisitely tuned antennae for justice, but with a great sense of how the "normal" world isn't the world they live in, meaning that the costs and benefits of that world are not at play. Having these folks on commissions would go a long way in helping effective public safety policy get made. At the very least, we should do a lot more debriefing of offenders when released and periodically after that. I know several judges I've talked to would be very interested in those results. The rest of us should be, too.

1 comment:

Ilah said...

From someone who has worked on related issues--namely, sex offender restrictions and "add-on" laws enacted post-sentencing--I'd say the inmate perspective is critical. I can't count how many times I've heard "I never thought of that" when I've pointed out consequences of current and proposed laws to lawmakers.