March 06, 2009

Make jail time a last resort

Make jail time a last resort - commentary by Jonathan E. Gradess on the report of the New York State Commission for Sentencing Reform, February 11, 2009.

"The recent report of the New York State Sentencing Commission, merely toying with sentencing reform, mirrors our past rather than breaking new ground. The Legislature should reject the report, send it to the State Archives, and begin anew...

...The Legislature should abolish all mandatory sentences and return full judicial discretion to judges. Prison sentences should be uniformly shorter, and non-incarcerative sentences should be available for every offense. Prison should be viewed and used as a last resort. The presumption of incarceration that has emerged should be replaced with meaningful procedures to fashion appropriate non-prison sentences. A continuum of non-incarcerative, treatment oriented, graduated sanctions should replace the simple "in" or "out" decision that currently characterizes sentencing. We should impose all sentences with an eye toward making people productive."

Jonathan E. Gradess is executive director of the New York State Defenders Association.