In this piece, Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission Carlton W. Reeves makes a call for alternatives to incarceration. Noting that imprisonment was originally an “alternative” itself, insofar as it supplanted execution and slavery as forms of social control, Chair Reeves argues that incarceration has maintained its status as the default punishment because of its ability to make the costs of punishment invisible to the public. Pointing to the sentences of those who attempted to overthrow the government on January 6, 2021, Chair Reeves argues that non-carceral punishments that reflect mercy and empathy are available in the current system; the problem is that these things are provided to the few, rather than the many. All of this is to suggest that alternatives will be provided more broadly only when those who have experienced the realities of incarceration have their truths reflected in policymaking around sentencing. To spark that change, the Sentencing Commission must partner with scholars, journalists, practitioners, judges, and incarcerated people to develop more just, evidence-based policies.

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