The prevalent criminal justice practices in the U.S. have produced levels and patterns of incarceration that fewer and fewer politicians, scholars, and citizens care to support. There seems to be widespread consensus that the system is indicted as unjust by its outcomes no matter how these outcomes came about. But if that is so, how can it be turned back? Who should be eligible for release, and on what grounds? This article addresses the position of black prisoners serving very long sentences. Many of these prisoners are at risk of missing out under current legislative and administrative proposals designed to reduce overall levels of imprisonment. Partly this is due to the fact that the wrong of mass incarceration is often understood as a wrong suffered at the collective level by what has come to be referred to as “overpunished communities.” It is unclear how the existence of that collective wrong affects the permissibility of continued punishment at the individual level. This article develops an argument that, at the individual level, being a black prisoner serving a very long sentence gives rise to a moral entitlement for a review of the need and justification for continued incarceration. The article outlines the basic shape of a clemency scheme devised especially for these prisoners as a moral imperative for a reform process intended to remedy penal injustice.

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