An Opening for Bipartisanship on Prison Reform

Newt Gingrich and Pat NolanJuly 14, 2014

Congress returns to Capitol Hill this week, but there’s little reason to expect substantial legislation between now and the November election. In one policy area, however, Congress can and should act now: reforming the federal prison system.

Half of all federal inmates are incarcerated for drug offenses, not violent crimes. The federal prison population, currently 216,381, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, is expected to increase by 5,400 in fiscal years 2013-14. Prison costs are projected to reach $6.9 billion.

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Fourth marijuana conviction gets Slidell man life in prison

Ramon Antonio VargasMay 5, 2011

Cornell Hood II got off with probation after three marijuana convictions in New Orleans.

He didn’t fare too well after moving to St. Tammany Parish, however. A single such conviction on the north shore landed the 35-year-old in prison for the rest of his life.

State Judge Raymond S. Childress punished Hood under Louisiana’s repeat-offender law in his courtroom in Covington on Thursday. A jury on Feb. 15 found the defendant guilty of attempting to possess and distribute marijuana at his Slidell home, court records show.

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How Did We Get Here?

Right on Crime

In the 1960s, the United States experienced a notorious crime wave. Liberal theories on crime posited that criminals were inevitable products of oppressive societies and, given the correct resources, virtually all offenders were capable of curtailing their criminal behavior. These attitudes did little to limit criminality and, in fact, crime rates continued to swell into the 1970s.

Then the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Conservative politicians argued that criminals generally could not be rehabilitated, it was pointless to attempt most treatments, and the only realistic solution was to incapacitate a criminal through the use of incarceration. This was often caricatured as the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach.

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La. Gets Lenient With Nonviolent Offenders

Dan HarrisMarch 10, 2014

In the 1980s and 1990s, with Louisiana experiencing a surge in crime, state Sen. John Hainkel helped write and pass tough new sentencing laws.

Now, he makes a startling admission: It “didn’t work at all.”

Too many nonviolent drug criminals got put away, he said. The prison population doubled. The cost tripled. And the crime rate barely dropped.

He said Louisiana simply cannot afford the system he helped design.

“I am a fiscal conservative — a strict fiscal conservative,” said Hainkel, the Republican state senate president. “And it made no sense whatsoever, from either a financial viewpoint or a moral viewpoint, to put people in jail that didn’t need to be in jail.”

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The Exponential Growth Of American Incarceration, In Three Graphs

Nicole Flatow, May 29, 2014

The Prison Policy Initiative released a deluge of data Wednesday on United States prison population rates. The main take-away of the data is nothing new: The U.S. prison population is the highest in the world, and has grown exponentially since the 1970s, tracking the rise of the so-called War on Drugs.

But for all the talk these past few months about the federal prison population — and the concerns there are urgent — these charts call out the major perpetrators of the prison explosion: the states, where incarceration rates have increased more than fourfold.

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Get a Little Less Tough on Crime

Mortimer B. Zuckerman, May 9, 2014

Too many people are in prison who should not be there. How many? Most of them! It is not that they are wholly innocent of the offenses that put them there. It is that they are in prison mainly because we have criminalized vast areas of conduct involving nonviolent offenders and compounded that with a distorted system of sentencing. Criminal justice cries out for reform.

Since 1980, the prison population has grown by about 800 percent while the country’s population has increased by only a third. We have 5 percent of the world’s population – but 25 percent of its prisoners. By comparison, as Richard Viguerie, chairman of, noted last year in a New York Times op-ed, the total correctional control rate under President Ronald Reagan (including everyone in prison or jail, or on probation or parole) was less than half the current rate. And here’s another shocker: Nonviolent offenders account for 90 percent of federal prisoners.

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Three Strikes Law & Drug Addiction: What Does The Science Say?

Jacqueline Howard, September 4, 21012

In some parts of America, marijuana possession may land you in jail for life. That was the case for Cornell Hood, a New Orleans man who was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of possessing and attempting to distribute marijuana.

Under Louisiana’s repeat offender law, Hood’s prior marijuana convictions resulted in the harsh sentence, The Times-Picayune reported, adding that authorities found a student loan application in the home Hood shared with his mother and his young son at the time of his arrest.

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