Human Rights in Criminal Sentencing Project Advocates for Reform

“It has long been understood that U.S. sentences are much longer than those used in many other countries around the world. Our study comprehensively compiles the available statutory evidence for that assertion,” said Professor Connie de la Vega, one of the authors of the report.

The project published its report, “Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices in a Global Context,” in May. The project found that the United States is among only 20 percent of countries around the world that utilize life without parole sentences; is among only 21 percent of countries around the world to issue uncapped consecutives sentences when there are multiple offenses from the same act; is one of only three federalist countries that allow successive prosecution of the same defendant by federal and state governments for the same crime; and is in the minority of countries (16 percent) that allow for children to be tried and sentenced as adults.

Since the publication of the report, which the Ford Foundation supported with a two-year grant in 2010, project researchers have participated in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice conference “Global Perspectives on Justice, Security, and Human Rights” and a National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers conference. The project has also established relationships with Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, The Sentencing Project, the San Francisco Sentencing Commission, and many other organizations focused on criminal justice reform.

“We’ve received a great response to our report,” Project Director Amanda Solter said. “It is clear that we’re covering new ground and that some of these major organizations are only just beginning to look at the issues that we wrote about.”

With an additional year of funding from the Ford Foundation, project researchers plan to continue their advocacy efforts, especially at the United Nations Human Rights Council and with other international organizations.

“The excessively punitive nature of criminal sentencing in the United States is at odds with its stated international human rights law obligations,” said Soo-Ryun Kwon, one of the project researchers. “These practices contradict not only these obligations but also what the vast majority or countries in the world have deemed to be just punishment for crimes.”