U.S. sentencing laws are at odds with the nation’s human rights obligations to direct its prisons system towards rehabilitation, the University of San Francisco School of Law’s Center for Law and Global Justice asserted in a new report on international sentencing practices. This helps to explain why, despite a declining crime rate, the U.S. prison population has grown six-fold since 1980 to become the world’s largest per capita, the authors said.
The report, “Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices in a Global Context,” compiles comparative research on sentencing laws around the globe and documents how sentencing laws distinguish the U.S. from other countries. Researchers found that the U.S. is in the minority of countries using practices like life without parole, consecutive sentences, juvenile life without parole, juvenile transfer to adult courts, and successive prosecution of the same defendant by the state and federal government. Conversely, sentencing practices under international law that are used around the world, such as setting 12 as the minimum age of criminal liability and retroactive application of sentencing laws that benefit offenders, are not systematically applied in the U.S. Mandatory minimum sentences for crimes and “three strikes” laws are used in the U.S. more widely than elsewhere in the world.