Given the high incarceration rate in the United States, sentencing reform has become a major issue for many politicians and scholars concerned with the country's legal system. The first major issue to consider is the purpose of a sentence. It can be intended as a punishment, as a way of preventing harm to society, and as the beginning of a process of rehabilitation. In general, punitive sentences, especially for victimless crimes such as possession of small quantities of recreational drugs, do not serve the purpose of preventing harm to the society as a whole or rehabilitation.
A central issue in sentencing is that it should be in proportion to the severity of the crime, something rigid systems like "three strike" laws can undermine. Although the criminal justice system should discourage all forms of crime, shoplifting and possession of a small amount of marijuana do not warrant the expense and punitive qualities of long stays in prison. Instead, harsh sentences should be reserved for those who commit violent crimes or deal large quantities of drugs or are otherwise threats to society.
Next, sentencing should take into account the nature of the criminal and the possibility of rehabilitation. The juvenile justice system is predicated on the notion that young offenders can be successfully rehabilitated. In so far as the main goal of sentencing is to keep society safe, it is important to consider what sort of sentencing is most likely to prevent future crimes. Often, rehabilitation, care for any mental illness issues, and job training may be more effective than prison.