A push to begin revisiting lengthy prison sentences, as part of the justice reform effort being promoted by big-city prosecutors around the U.S., is gaining momentum even in states like Maryland, where there is no formal mechanism for prosecutors to revisit settled cases. Prosecutors in San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia and Brooklyn are also launching sentencing review initiatives, as is new Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, the Washington Post reports. While a growing number of prosecutors are seeking to uncover and reverse wrongful convictions,the move to release those who were correctly convicted but have now served decades in prison could have a far wider impact. More than 2 million Americans are in jail or prison.
In Washington state, a bill allowing prosecutors to seek resentencing passed this year, and the district attorney in Seattle announced a sentencing review unit in June. The office had already been quietly achieving prisoner releases since 2007, “with a bit of a wink to the judge,” said King County District Attorney Dan Satterberg. “We knew no one was going to appeal it.” Washington, D.C., has released 53 inmates under a 2016 law allowing for resentencing if the offender was under 18 and served at least 15 years in prison. Extreme sentences, particularly those that wouldn’t be imposed today, divert resources away from the root sources of crime, turn prisons into elder care centers and alienate communities torn by mass incarceration, said Miriam Krinsky of Fair and Just Prosecution. Prosecutors launching such efforts have devised several factors to consider for each case, such as the original crime, an inmate’s rehabilitation in prison, plan for reentry into society, likelihood to reoffend and the opinions of the victims. Experts said victims often don’t oppose the release of the offender and that the occurrence of new crimes by those released is low.