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News Releases - Division of Media Relations and Communication Services - American Bar Association - Law - Legal

Release: Immediate
Media Contact: Damien LaVera
Phone: 202/662-1094
Email: [email protected]



WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 3, 2003 – Criminal sentencing issues, prison conditions, high recidivism rates, and the disproportionate representation of minorities in America’s prison population will be among the topics addressed during the American Bar Association Justice Kennedy Commission’s first public hearing, to be held next week in Washington, D.C. The hearing, scheduled for Nov. 12-14, will take place at the George Washington University Law School and will feature testimony from a wide variety of expert witnesses.

Last month, ABA President Dennis W. Archer formed the commission to address the “inadequacies - and the injustices - in our prison and correctional systems” identified by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in a speech to the ABA Annual Meeting in August, and appointed George Washington University Law Professor Stephen A. Saltzburg as its chair.

In his speech, Kennedy criticized the nation's imprisonment policies and called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes. In forming the commission, Archer challenged its members to review and make recommendations on:

  • Whether the use of mandatory minimum sentencing at the state and federal levels should be repealed, including evaluation of whether sentencing guidelines need to be revised and whether they have had an adverse impact on judicial discretion in sentencing;
  • Why more than 60 percent of our 2.1 million prison population are minorities;
  • Prison conditions, with, if necessary, recommendations for improving them;
  • The reasons for high rates of recidivism, with recommendations for reducing them; and
  • How the pardon process works at the state and federal levels and, if necessary, make recommendations regarding the process.
Next week’s hearing represents the first opportunity for the commission to formally hear testimony from experts in these areas. Over the course of three days, commission members will hear from dozens of witnesses, who will be divided into panels addressing the following questions:
  • What Are The Objectives of Punishment and What Sentences Best Serve Those Objectives?
  • Who Decides Sentences at the Front End? 
  • Should There Be a Second Look at Sentences? (Mid-course Corrections) 
  • Can Rehabilitation Succeed and Reentry Be Successful  
  • What is the Impact of Drug Crimes on Incarceration? 
  • What Works as to Drug Crimes, Part I: Imprisonment?
  • What Works as to Drug Crimes, Part II: Prison Alternatives?
  • What Are the States Doing to Reform Sentencing
  • How Effective is Federal Sentencing?
  • Overview of Racial Disparity in Criminal Justice – The Problem, the Causes, and the Effects
  • Police and Racial Profiling
  • Prosecution and Sentencing 

For more information on the commission, or a complete schedule of hearings, visit the commission’s website at or contact Damien LaVera in the ABA press office at 202/662-1094.


The American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership association in the world.  With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.