New York Times: Prisons Push California to Seek New Approach

This was a pretty interesting article.  I guess I’ve been noticing a heightened media attention to the prison system and the social situations that lead to the huge rates of incarceration.  It seems like there is starting to be some government response as well.  The article mentions sentencing comissions as one potential solution, which is something I was unfamiliar with.

From Prisons Push California to Seek New Approach – New York Times:

By nearly every measure, the California prison system is the most troubled in the nation. Overcrowding, inmate violence, recidivism, parole absconders and the prison medical system are among its many festering problems.

Now, with the November election behind them, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers from both parties say the time is ripe for the first major overhaul of the system since the 1970s.

Sentencing commissions, made up of a diverse group of experts including former judges and crime victim advocates, essentially treat prison beds as scarce resources that need to be properly allocated.

Used in many states, the commissions, armed with empirical data, establish sentencing grids, with the offense on one axis and the offender’s history on another, forming a narrow range of possible sentences.

These grids are presented to judges, who have discretion to go outside the range in light of extenuating circumstances. One of the system’s greatest advantages, its proponents suggest, is that it depoliticizes sentencing by taking it out of the hands of elected officials.