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Among the world’s justice systems, the United States has distinguished itself in two respects: It is the birthplace of a Constitution at the forefront of humanistic thinking, and it incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth. This antagonism between the values espoused in the nation’s charter and the administration of the penal law has formed a mass incarceration mind-set. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, state legislatures, and policy makers have signaled a change that might put a halt to the creeping decimal points of prison populations and corrections budgets.

On Aug. 1, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled, Rising Prison Costs: Restricting Budgets and Crime Prevention Options, in which Senator Patrick Leahy set the tone by stating: “This is a bipartisan issue. Sentencing reform works. Taxpayer dollars can be used more efficiently to better prevent crime than simply building more prisons.” Moreover, the National Academies project, Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration, is undertaking a two-year study. And state after state is reconsidering its options in the face of overwhelming budget deficits.

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