The United States has more of its population in prison than any other country in the world. There are currently 2.2 million people in prison or in jail in the United States, according to The Sentencing Project, prompting discussion about reforming the criminal-justice system.
In an interview with Business Insider, Joe Margulies, a law professor at Cornell University, offered an unusual idea for how to help fix it.
If the professor could pick one category of the incarcerated population to release today, he said it would likely be the people who committed very serious offenses and have been in prison for a long time.
Margulies didn’t name any specific offenses, but if individuals sentenced to more than 25 years in prison were released today, it would certainly include those guilty of such crimes as sexual assault and murder.
Even though it seems counterintuitive, Margulies insisted that releasing the longtime prison dwellers would not necessarily pose a threat to society.
“The kind of person they were when they went into prison often just doesn’t exist anymore,” Margulies said. “Keeping them in prison offers no chance for redemption, and no one is a monster.”
They’re even the group that’s least likely to recidivate, or wind back up in prison, he said. He added this is common knowledge for people familiar with the criminal-justice system — but not so obvious to the average citizen.
Much of the political discussion around criminal-justice reform has focused on reducing the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders.
Yet even though Margulies agreed that many low-level offenders should not be incarcerated in the first place, he urged caution in using solely this line of thinking.
“Emptying the prisons of nonviolent drug offenders will not, by itself, fix the many issues that plague our criminal justice system,” he said.
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