The US criminal justice system, which is based too heavily on incarceration, has been the subject of criticism from several quarters in recent years. Now, a new report by the National Research Council confirms that there is a very urgent need in this country to revise the criminal justice policies, specifically those related to sentencing laws, in order to reduce the number of people in prisons.

A large number of people in American prisons are there for nonviolent offenses. According to the report, over the four past 40 years, imprisonment rates in the country have increased more than four times. Currently, there are 2.2 million adults in American prisons, making this the largest prison population in the world. It isn’t as if crime rates have increased over the past 4 decades. It’s simply that policies based on national politics have created a climate of fear, and encouraged policies of stringent incarceration, even for minor offenses.

In fact, a new study indicates that there have been significant declines in violent crime rates reported across the country. Overall, the report indicates that there has been a decline in almost every type of violent crime over the past three decades. Researchers believe that the reason for the decline is more intensive crime prevention efforts that specifically target the root causes of violent crimes. In many cases, local agencies were able to understand that violent crime is typically a vicious cycle, and the children and family members of persons who are affected by violent crime may be at a higher risk of such crimes themselves. Therefore, these efforts focused on family members and children, helping them to break that cycle of violence.

According to the report, during the 70s and 80s, new laws expanded criminal processing and sentencing even for minor and lesser offenses. They also increased the amount of time that would be served after convictions, and laws called for stringent prosecution and intensive punishment of drug crimes.

During this time, a number of laws including those that call for mandated minimum sentencing, as well as the three- strikes law that is notorious for pushing people into jail for long periods of time, were passed. The War on Drugs definitely contributed to its share of sending people for long periods of incarceration, dividing families, and tearing communities apart. Not only were more people going to jail during this period of time, but they were also being sentenced to longer and longer sentences.

According to the report, heavy incarceration of this manner is a major burden on society, not just financially, but also socially and emotionally. Spending on incarceration over the past few decades, for instance, has been much higher than the budget increases for other important causes, including transportation and welfare. More money goes to support the country’s prisons, than the country schools.

Mandated minimum prison sentencing needs to be scaled back, if the problems with the American prison system are to be solved. It’s also important for sentencing guidelines to include non-incarceration avenues, like rehabilitation.

If you were arrested for a criminal offense, discuss your legal defense options with a Denver criminal defense attorney.