Malcolm Young ’68
Malcolm C. Young ’68; Major: American Studies

When the U.S. Sentencing Commission reduced the prison terms for certain federal drug crimes, and ruled that these reductions can be applied retroactively, thousands of federal prisoners became eligible for early release. In the coming years, as many as 46,000 of them will be released early—about two years earlier than anticipated, on average. Malcolm C. Young ’68 is heading a new effort to help hundreds of these people move back into the wider world.

“Currently, when a person leaves the federal system, they’re passed off to federal probation, which provides supervision. Federal probation is overworked and understaffed,” says Young, a Washington, D.C., lawyer. “Within a matter of months they’re left on their own.”

The new wave of early releases will stretch the probation system even thinner.

Project New Opportunity, which Young founded last year, will “remedy some of the deficiencies in reentry and demonstrate a better way to bring people home,” he says.

Project staff will work with each inmate starting six months to a year before the early release date, figuring out what social support the person will need on the outside and connecting him or her to family members, social workers and faith-based aid organizations.

Funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and run through New York’s Center for Community Alternatives, the project will launch this spring in eastern Virginia, among other areas of the country where there are especially large numbers of early releases or a shortage of halfway houses for them. Young would also like to focus on categories of prisoners who are particularly vulnerable, such as women and military veterans.

A lot is at stake politically in how well these people readjust to life outside of prison, Young says. Politicians and citizens who oppose sentence reductions fear that inmates released early will return to lives of crime and pose a threat to public safety.

Those who support the shortening of sentences, including Young, fear the same thing, because such Those who oppose sentence reductions fear that inmates will return to lives of crime. Those who support early releases fear the same thing. recidivism could give sentencereduction “a bad flavor” and prompt judges to halt the trend.

“I personally object to the term ‘early release,’ because the original release date was arbitrarily imposed in the first place,” Young says. “There is research that shows that longer sentences seem to be followed by increased recidivism, not less.”

Young has been concerned with matters of sentencing for decades. In 1986, building off previous work with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, he founded The Sentencing Project. Now a research and advocacy organization, it works to address racial disparities in sentencing and advocates for alternatives to incarceration.

Young is also leading a research and writing project at the Campaign for Youth Justice on the mistreatment of juveniles prosecuted as adults in Mississippi. Young describes Project New Opportunity as a sort of bookend to his earlier work. “Thirty years ago I started The Sentencing Project to help keep people out of jail and prison at the front end,” he said in a recent edition of the Amherst class notes. Now he’ll be there to help them as they emerge on the other side.