Sentencing reform is a trendy topic among those concerned with criminal justice policy. It is a righteous cause if for no other reason than there is always room for improvement in the criminal justice system. But before we make wholesale changes in sentencing policy by abolishing mandatory sentences or abandoning incarceration in favor of alternative programs, we should give full and careful consideration to the risks to our communities and citizens, and thoroughly vet the alternatives.

Right now, legislators are rushing to overhaul sentencing policy, the Obama administration is advancing an unprecedented system of clemency for federal inmates, and commentary is buzzing with the conviction that the high rate of incarceration in the United States is a stain on our national reputation — all without apparent consideration of the consequences. But now is the time to ensure that criminal justice reform is based on fact and reason, not politics and ideology.

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