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The Prisoner Dilemma

Ending America’s Incarceration Epidemic

Inmates in a class at the Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York April, 2016. CARLO ALLEGRI / REUTERS

During the past decade, a time of intense political polarization in the United States, criminal justice reform has emerged as an unlikely unifier. Democrats and Republicans have reached across the aisle, compelled by a shared recognition that flawed legal codes and sentencing laws (among other features of the criminal justice system) have destroyed lives, drained billions of taxpayer dollars, and failed to provide Americans with the public safety they deserve. This broad agreement led to the introduction, in 2015 and 2016, of bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Congress that would have produced comprehensive reform at the federal level—including changes to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which have contributed to the explosion in U.S. incarceration rates by reducing judges’ discretion in sentencing. Supporters of the legislation represented an extraordinarily wide ideological spectrum: from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and the billionaire donor

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