April 2, 2024

Setbacks and Progress: Sentencing Reform and Marriage Equality Policies Over the Past 50 Years

Two timelines on sentencing reform and marriage equality share selected events to illustrate the steps forward, and back, that it takes to incrementally change policy over decades.

Sentencing Reform

In the 1970s, US policy makers began to pursue “tough-on-crime” policies, including the creation and expansion of truth in sentencing policies and mandatory minimums. Fifty years later, the prison population has grown 500 percent. Sentencing reform looks to reduce both the number of people entering the prison system and to moderate the extreme policies that drive long prison terms. Reform efforts picked up in the early-2000s with bipartisan support to reduce drug mandatory minimums and for justice reinvestment. Today, state and federal efforts continue to reform sentencing policies.

Marriage Equality

The movement for marriage equality refers to the efforts to legally recognize and protect the right of same-sex couples to marry and enjoy the same benefits as do heterosexual married couples. After a series of setbacks in the 1990s, including the Defense of Marriage Act at the federal level, the tide began to turn in the early 2000s at the state level. After many incremental points of progress, and nearly as many setbacks, the US Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

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The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.