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Written into the legal changes would be protocols for review of cases to re-determine parole eligibility in certain cases but especially those where the latter crimes were non-violent and relatively minor offences. Because of this review aspect the legal and physical changes of this alternative is the most effective in both the short-term and long-term, of dealing with prison overcrowding. This alternative was chosen, not because it is the least costly, as it will likely be one of the most costly solutions, but because it has the greatest possibility for making real change in the overcrowding problem and rebalancing the system to create sustainability in the future. The implementation of this change will begin with resources as reviewing many cases, will require thousands of man hours in and out of courtrooms and likely develop into a monumental task for already overburdened public prosecutors, defenders and judges. Changing the legal precedence will not likely be easy, especially reselling ideology to the public who will necessarily see the change as a reversal of a "bill of goods" they have been sold for decades, i.e. that the "tough on crime" response is the only real solution to criminal behaviors. Yet, in the long run this is the only feasible solution to the overcrowding problem as it attacks the problem with evidentiary evidence, supporting the experts who have in the last two to three decades been stripped of authority to make changes, as these changes were offered up to the political body of non-experts and the public based on election desires and unmitigated but unfounded social fear (Krajicek, 1998).
Conversely, the public is not poised to build more prison beds, in the wake of financial crisis, nor is it poised to see what many experts and laymen alike see as a failed trend to continue to be supported, lastly alternative sentencing is a limited option as it only deals with immediate entrant issues and will not have a long-term effect over those incarcerated today. The reality is that a return to rational, supported and sustainable sentencing is an absolute must, without question and the public, politicians and experts need to come to terms with the development of a sustainable prison system that actually serves the purpose of protecting society from crime while still allowing the public the ability to pay for it. The current system is so untenable, even if increases are ceased and the cost will continue to skyrocket, as the prisoners currently serving long or life sentences age and need further support to exist. The problem of overcrowding in the prison system is foundational to the fabric of our whole society and reasonable and far reaching responses need to be developed and implemented as without such a change the problem is likely to get even worse. Additionally, a solution (such as what is seen in Alternative 1) that offers a multi-directional attack on the overcrowding problem rooting out the causes and seeking solutions for the immediate issues is most likely to be effective in both the short-term, slowing new entrants into the system and the long-term reducing the incarceration rates as they stand.
The most important aspect of this solution is of course the review of existing cases, but again this cannot take place without legal precedent and legislative changes. This aspect will likely be the biggest hurdle as people both expert and lay will weigh in on heavily on such a foundational paradigm shift and look more closely at the overt and hidden costs associated with the change, something that should have been done when the "tough on crime" legalizations began in the first place, but there is a clear sense that responding to this self-induced problem is necessary and a more holistic and less emotive view should be welcomed by both the system and society.
Due in large part to the many supporting laws that have been passed in the "tough on crime" era the legal issues on both the grand and individual scales will be vast and broad. On an individual level the review of existing case will likely only begin after broader legislative (mostly state level) changes are made. The results will likely not be felt for some time as incremental case review is an absolute must to ensure that the process is implemented safely and is afforded the right individual focus, i.e. The right type of case are reviewed, the litigants are properly supported and ultimately that society remains safe as these individuals (probably slowly at first) trickle back into society. It is clear that support for reduced recidivism i.e. rehabilitation services are scant and needs bolstering to offer parole, alternative living support and life skills opportunities to these individuals but ultimately the time will come when there will be failures in this system to and the legal system needs to have the ability to respond to these cases appropriately. New entrant issues will likely be the first the cases to effect overcrowding but it will not be the sweeping change that many politicians like to see, in part to rapidly ensure equity unless legal precedents are changed in a number of states and new incarceration declines rapidly through these changes. Care not to over-rely on plea bargaining will also have to be taken as this has been the traditional and historical manner in which the courts have been offered leniency with regard to alternative sentencing and real judge and attorney level decision making based on the actual case rather than mandated sentencing for higher crimes. The ethical and moral issues regarding plea bargaining as well as its effect on the criminal justice system must be considered at all costs, as to some degree the system can and does encourage incarceration over other alternatives and create as many problems as it solves (Appleman, 2010). This is not to say that plea bargaining will not be a reasonable and rational tool to reduce costs of a foundational change but it should be considered less often than simply reverting back to expert discretion with regard to prosecution and sentencing.
This work has focused much attention on policies that have contributed to a non-sustainable and overcrowded prison system in the U.S. There is no question that change is urgent as building more prison beds is simply not an option that the public or the system can support. The need to make sweeping change and to reassert the evidentiary and discretionary rights of experts rather than lay politicians and public sentiment in response to crime is essential to change. Therefore the only option among the alternatives I have suggested is to look at the situation from beginning to end, find the reasons that overcrowding is present and resolve them. This response is likely to be much more incremental and small than what I have outlined here as the system is supported by decades of "tough on crime" thinking and kneejerk reactions on the part of legislation. The reality is that crime rates are declining, not as a result of incarceration but for many other reasons and the public needs to be made aware that this is the case and that much of their fear is unwarranted and therefore the tough reactions both legally and administratively that have occurred over the last 30 years were in error and must be reversed and the consequences of this reversal dealt with in an equitable and responsible manner. The public and the politic needs to give back the authority of legal change to the experts who understand far better the demands of a comprehensive incarceration system and needs to better support them in doing so. There is no question that the demands on the public in both the short- and long-term will be significant, yet it is also very clear that they will continue to grow exponentially as incarceration rates continue to climb and alternatives are not sought. So, in short the public can choose to do nothing and continue to see the problem grow, along with the costs of sustaining it or they can bite the bullet so to say and accept the need to reallocate resources to solving the problem at both the entrant level and the existing levels. Either action or inaction will be costly but action will offer eventual resolution or at least a reduction in the long-term effects that massive incarceration is having on society.
Appleman, L. (2010). The plea jury. Indiana Law Journal, 85(3), 731-776. Retrieved from. http://web.ebscohost.com.wf2dnvr15.webfeat.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&hid=108&sid=47f5bf92-4378-496c-a8a0-0fbebcc7710f%40sessionmgr114
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