Will longer prison sentences help reduce drug crimes?

While many people in Minneapolis may think that longer and more frequent prison sentences will be an important deterrence to anyone convicted of a crime, they would be wrong. According to the PEW Center on the States, longer prison sentences do little curb non-violent offenders from getting in trouble with the law again. That means sending someone who was convicted of marijuana possession to prison for several years isn’t going to help him or her break a drug habit and he or she may just be back before a judge in a few years’ time.

Not only does the PEW study show that nonviolent offenders in Minnesota will not be helped with longer or more frequent incarcerations, but there is evidence that indicates that these harsh sentences are doing little to drop overall crime rates. Though it is clear that crime has dropped in Minnesota and across the country, the increase in prison sentences was only responsible for one-quarter to one-third of that decrease. And that influence was last recorded in the 1990s.

PEW does not believe that increasing the length of prison sentences or the frequency that people are sentenced to prison will do much to reduce recidivism any more.

Overall, the average prison terms have doubled since the 1990s and one state has seen a 51 percent increase between 1990 and 2009. In addition to the increasingly harsh prison terms and their general lack of effectiveness, the amount of money being spent on incarceration is rapidly increasing. The country as a whole spends a total of $51 billion on corrections each year, much of which is spent on prison.

So, maybe Minnesotan judges should think twice before sending someone on a marijuana possession charge to prison rather than to some other alternative sentencing program.

Source: Southern California Public Radio, “A PEW study finds lengthy prison terms cost a lot, with little return,” Rina Palta, June 6, 2012

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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