New report reveals nationwide momentum for ‘Second Look’ legislation

The Sentencing Project recently released a new report, “The Second Look Movement: A Review of the Nation’s Sentence Review Laws.”

The report finds legislatures in 12 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have enacted “second look” judicial review policies.

The report also finds that courts in at least 15 states have determined that lengthy sentences, beyond life without parole, are unconstitutional for youth. Three states have also restricted life-without-parole sentences for emerging adults.  

The report also provides recommendations to improve consistency and clarity in second look legislation.

“This new report demonstrates that there is momentum across the United States to pass second look legislation authorizing judges to review sentences after a person has served a lengthy period of time,” said Becky Feldman, Second Look Network Director with The Sentencing Project and author of the report. “Second look legislation is imperative to end mass incarceration, accelerate racial justice, and better invest in public safety.

Today, there are nearly two million people in American prisons and jails – a 500% increase in imprisonment over the last 50 years. Harsh sentencing policies, such as lengthy mandatory minimum sentences, have produced an aging prison population in the United States. Nearly one-third of people serving life sentences are 55 or older, amounting to over 60,000 people.

“Research has clearly established that lengthy sentences do not have a significant deterrent effect on crime and divert resources from effective public safety programs. Nevertheless, existing parole systems, like executive clemency, are ineffective at curtailing excessive sentences in most states due to their highly discretionary nature, lack of due process and oversight, and lack of objective consideration standards,” said Kara Gotsch, Executive Director with The Sentencing Project. “As a result, we’ve seen legislators consider and adopt second look legislation as a more effective means to reconsider an incarcerated person’s sentence in order to assess their fitness to reenter society. While much work remains, we’re thrilled to see this momentum across the country.”

In response to the evolving second look movement, The Sentencing Project launched the Second Look Network in March 2023. The Network is composed of over 250 members representing 100 organizations, public defender offices, and law school clinics across the U.S. that provide direct legal representation to persons serving extreme sentences.

The Network ensures that defense teams are connected, supported, and equipped to provide effective sentence review and parole representation.

The Network also explores litigation strategies to expand second look opportunities.

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