Second look laws allow a decision-maker to reevaluate a person’s sentence after a significant period of time served in prison and determine if that sentence is still necessary. Potential second look decision-makers include courts, parole boards, governors, heads of departments of corrections, and specialty sentence review boards. There are pros and cons for each potential second look decision-maker. This document looks at factors to be considered when evaluating and choosing a decision-maker in a particular jurisdiction. Passing legislation that uses one decision-maker does not preclude current or future legislation allowing other decision-makers to conduct second looks.
Second Chances Resource Library
The Second Chances Resource Library contains resources related to expanding release opportunities
for people in prison who are serving long sentences or have other circumstances warranting release
Found 294 resources
The Justice Policy Institute’s (JPI) mission is dedicated to reducing the use of incarceration
in the justice system by promoting fair and effective policies. With this goal in mind, the GW team
chose to dive deep into the flaws and challenges of the re-entry system. The District of Columbia
currently does not have policies and programs in place that make re-entering society easier for
returning citizens. These individuals face many obstacles, including employment struggles, a lack
of access to education resources, a lack of resources for mental and behavioral health, and many
more. However, the main problem addressed in this report is the access to housing for those who
are re-entering society. The Justice Policy Institute requested an examination of the concept of
homelessness and recommended practices that could be adopted by Washington D.C. to
accommodate those re-entering society, referred to as returning citizens throughout this report.
This report will examine the current literature surrounding this issue, analyze interviews with
executives within this field, and establish promising practices by utilizing identified key
components. Finally, recommendations were provided to JPI for their use in advocating for policy
change on this issue
Researchers at the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) analyzed five years (FY2017 – FY2021) of data reflecting practices by the Maryland Parole Commission (MPC). Those data—collected, prepared, and shared by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services —cover parole eligibility, the number of cases heard, grant rates, denial rates, lengths of supervision, and parole revocations.
In developing recommendations, JPI consulted with people who have experience with the Maryland parole system, their family members, and attorneys who assist individuals applying for parole. We also reviewed the latest research and examined best practices in parole in other states.
Governor Maura Healey intends to use clemency to make the Commonwealth of Massachusetts more compassionate and more just. Accordingly, the Governor issued these modernized clemency Guidelines to center responsibility, compassion, fairness, equity, and accountability. These Guidelines are designed to provide parameters to petitioners seeking executive clemency and to assist the Advisory Board of Pardons with reviewing petitions for executive clemency.
The guidelines note factors to be considered in evaluating clemency requests, including racial disparities; sexual identity; the person’s age, maturity, and intellectual abilities and the time of the crime; and their rehabilitation. In addition, for commutation requests, the guidelines call for consideration of a person’s current age (for those over 50) and/or diminished health; as well as factors, such as being a survivor of sexual assault, that put people at heightened risk of harm and trauma while incarcerated.
The guidelines also set forth the procedure for processing clemency applications, including timeline requirements.
This webpage has links to clemency resources for each state, which include information on eligibility criteria, the application process, and more.
People experience severe forms of harm while incarcerated including medical neglect, prolonged solitary confinement, sexual and physical violence, and a host of other ills. But civil rights litigation under the Eighth Amendment—the most common vehicle through which people seek to redress these harms—presents significant practical and doctrinal barriers to incarcerated plaintiffs. Most notably, the Eighth Amendment’s “deliberate indifference” standard asks not whether a person has been harmed, but instead requires plaintiffs to demonstrate a criminally reckless mental state on the part of prison officials. Further, Eighth Amendment remedies are limited to damages or injunctions, which may not adequately redress a specific harm that a person is suffering. For these reasons, the Eighth Amendment has often fallen far short of providing litigants adequate relief.
At the same time, once a person is sentenced, the original sentencing judge generally has no control over whether a harm suffered in prison is remedied. However, since the passage of the First Step Act of 2018, people incarcerated in the federal system have a new vehicle for getting these kinds of claims into court: federal compassionate release. Compassionate release motions are heard by the original sentencing judge, who has the authority to reduce a person’s sentence if they can demonstrate, among other things, “extraordinary and compelling” reasons (ECRs) that warrant relief.
In April of 2023, the Federal Sentencing Commission adopted amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that drastically expanded the ECR definition to include claims based on the types of harms have been traditionally litigated under the Eighth Amendment. These changes represent a radical and potentially paradigm-shifting reform to federal sentencing law and give district courts enormous discretion to reexamine federal sentences. Given the challenge of redressing harms under the Eighth Amendment, this Article argues that the expansion of compassionate release ECRs to encompass harmful conditions of confinement makes doctrinal sense and allows for a more appropriate remedy to harms done in prison than traditional civil remedies.
Data for Defenders is a database that collects briefs, motions, and transcripts focused on social science research and data helpful to public defenders. In addition to including completed briefs and motions submitted by defenders, defense experts will regularly draft language for new briefs and motions, incorporating novel social science research to help defenders advocate with and for their indigent clients.
The database is organized in a user-friendly way. For every document in the database, there is a description that will pinpoint exactly which pages have the relevant information. It’s also searchable by a number of different categories—date, jurisdiction, topic, key terms. And because it has succinct summaries, perusing the database by category can also generate ideas for defenders about different kinds of issues they can raise that they might not have thought of.
This resolution by the American Bar Association urges federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to adopt Prosecutor-Initiated Resentencing legislation that permits a court at any time to recall and resentence a person to a lesser sentence upon the recommendation of the prosecutor of the jurisdiction in which the person was sentenced.
The ACLU of New Jersey released a report, Decarcerating New Jersey: A Transformative Vision of Justice, which includes newly acquired statewide data on incarceration and policy recommendations that can serve as a national model for decarceration. After decades of dedicated advocacy, the ACLU-NJ has helped lay the foundation for reimagining the criminal legal system in New Jersey through policy change that has reduced the state’s prison population by more than 50 percent since 2011. Despite this historic reduction, New Jersey prisons continue to have the highest rate of racial disparity in the nation, making decarceration fundamental to racial justice here, and beyond. Second chances areas of focus within the report include categorical clemency and compassionate release.
People formerly sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) in the state of California have flourished since they have had an opportunity to return home. As changes in legislation and executive power have allowed new pathways for release, the vast majority of people who have been released after serving these sentences are volunteering in their communities, caring for family members, and mentoring youth.
The 53-page report, “‘I Just Want to Give Back’: The Reintegration of People Sentenced to Life Without Parole,” details what people who were once sentenced to die in California prisons have done with their second chances. Human Rights Watch surveyed more than three-quarters of those released since 2013 and found that 94 percent reported volunteering regularly, 84 percent said they financially assisted others, and 90 percent worked full or part-time, with 43 percent working in the nonprofit sector. Based on these findings, the report recommends that California government officials take steps toward eliminating the use of LWOP sentences.