The Prosecutor’s Ethical Duty to End Mass Incarceration

Of the many crises in our criminal justice system, none is more critical than the problem of mass incarceration. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over 2.2 million people in prison or jail and 4.7 million on probation and parole. Making up only five percent of the world’s population, the United States incarcerates more than twenty percent of the world’s prisoners.

Over ten years ago, Justice Anthony Kennedy gave a major address at the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Annual Meeting in which he decried the overuse of incarceration and the harsh penalties that result in extraordinarily lengthy prison terms. According to Justice Kennedy, “[o]ur resources are misspent, our punishments too severe, our sentences too long.” He went on to say, “I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences. In too many cases, mandatory minimum sentences are unwise and unjust.”

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