Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy told a House subcommittee that the current justice system in place in America is too harsh. They believe that it locks up too many people for too long and does so at an ultimate cost of public safety.
Justice Kennedy believes that it would be more effective if we put offenders on probation and other supervised release programs. He stated, “The idea of total incarceration is just not working.” He believes that probation is a better option and more efficient because those offenders who are already released into the community have a very low rate of recidivism.
Justice Breyer, along with Kennedy, said that setting mandatory minimum sentences was generally “a terrible idea.” He called upon Congress to make it a priority to improve the criminal justice system.
Republicans and Democrats used this opportunity to ask the justices questions which had little to do with $88 million fiscal budget request. For example, Rep. Steve Womack(R., Ark.) said he wanted the views of the justices on prison and local jail overcrowding. He had spoken to local officials in his district and believes that the jails and prisons you cannot accommodate all inmates sentenced to incarceration. Justice Kennedy agreed that the corrections system is one of the most overlooked institutions we have in our government. Kennedy usually sides with law enforcement in criminal cases, but he has joined the Court's liberals to hold that prison overcrowding is a significant problem and can become so severe as to violate the 8th amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Justice Kennedy stated that California has more than 150,000 people who are incarcerated, costing the state $30,000 per inmate, compared to the $3,500 per year given to each California pupil enrolled in school. Justice Kennedy is also very concerned with the use of solitary confinement. Studies have shown that European justice systems confine prisoners in groups of three or four, with better results. Justice Kennedy calls for more research into effective methods of incarceration. “We haven't given it nearly enough study, nearly enough thought,” Justice Kennedy said.