ITHACA, NY – A Cornell professor made headlines last month for making a controversial and seemingly counter-intuitive proposal: that freeing long-incarcerated serious criminal offenders who have been incarcerated for more than 25 years wouldn’t be a bad idea.

In an interview with Business Insider, Cornell Law Professor Joe Margulies said that would be the class of inmates he’d likely release first as a step toward prison reform.

While Margulies didn’t refer to any specific offenses, it is likely long-term inmates would include those accused of serious or violent offenses.

“The kind of person they were when they went into prison often just doesn’t exist anymore,” Margulies told Business Insider. “Keeping them in prison offers no chance for redemption, and no one is a monster.”

The professor also pointed out that older prisoners are the least likely to re-offend and end up back in the system. A 2009 study by the Florida Department of Corrections backs this up, showing inmates 50 and older ending up back in prison roughly 20 percent less than younger convicts.

Margulies also agreed with a more common perspective on prison reform — that nonviolent drug offenders should not be sent to prison. However, he cautioned that this approach by itself would not fix the issues with the American criminal justice system.

(Featured photo: on Flickr)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.