This New York Times op-ed makes a compelling case for shorter sentences and community-based alternatives.
We could cut sentences for violent crimes by half in most instances without significantly undermining deterrence or increasing the threat of repeat offending. Studies have found that longer sentences do not have appreciably greater deterrent effects; many serious crimes are committed by people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, who are not necessarily thinking of the consequences of their actions, and certainly are not affected by the difference between a 15-year and a 30-year sentence.
For years, states have been radically restricting parole; we need to make it more readily available. And by eliminating unnecessary parole conditions for low-risk offenders, we can conserve resources to provide appropriate community-based programming and supervision to higher-risk parolees.
Meanwhile, drug courts are also addressed:
There are already drug courts in many American communities, and studies show they can reduce substance abuse without incarceration. But the criteria for diversion are often unduly narrow, and they screen out substantial numbers of drug users who could benefit from treatment. Equally important, we should not limit our response to those who have been arrested. Part of winding down the “war on drugs” will require making treatment options more widely available, before individuals enter the criminal justice system.
Yes, more treatment before people are incarcerated would go a long way to help people stop becoming criminally justice involved. As a result, people who do not have a criminal record could then go on to find jobs, housing, and hopefully have a positive affect on our society.