Please read below or click the following link to read the endorsement that Professor Rory Little, of UC Hastings, offered in the UC Hastings Law Review after I spoke at a symposium on Federal Prison and Sentence Reform. You may also view on the UC Hastings Website.
Merit-Based Sentencing Reductions:
Moving Forward on Specifics, and Some
Critique of the New Model Penal Code
Rory K. Little
In the Essay that follows, Michael Santos tells a remarkable story. Arrested at age twenty-three, Santos served twenty-six years in the federal prison system. While in prison, Santos published articles and books,1 and earned college and master’s degrees, despite what he describes as affirmatively obstructionist decisions by “corrections” personnel.2
Immediately after his release in 2013, Santos began lecturing at a respected state university.3 Today, he has a website;4 course materials for persons facing lengthy prison sentences; scores of supporters and mentors;5 and the charisma and character to hold a law symposium audience spellbound for every minute of his thirty-minute presentation. Those who teach know how difficult that can be!
But in contrast to what I think is often the unspoken reaction of lawyers to “prisoner example speakers,” Santos ought not be viewed simply as an object of fascination like some museum piece. He is plainly an intelligent person, hard-working and a thinker. He is also a living example of the mistakes—and the hopes—of America’s bureaucratized long-term imprisonment system, popularized in recent years as “mass incarceration.”6
Just as significant as Santos’s “story” is his message. Santos adds his voice of experience to an increasingly large and politically diverse chorus that recommends various mechanisms for permitting the safe release of convicted felons “early” from their imprisonment terms.7 Certainly this chorus is driven by some extent to the budgetary imperatives of the times.8 But it is also driven by people like Santos, whose crime was serious and who may well deserve both the retributive as well as deterrent sanction of imprisonment, but who also demonstrate, by a record of “merit-based” achievement, that some sentences initially imposed are unnecessarily long. I would join Santos in suggesting that proposals for “interim looks” at lengthy prison sentences be considered, as well as systems of measurable “merit credits” toward release. And I offer some constructive criticisms of the American Law Institute’s (“ALI”) recent adoption of some steps in this direction.