Prisons, sentencing procedures, and the judicial system have been indicted in recent years by everyone from James Q. Wilson to Jessica Mitford without much discernible effect. Neier, Executive Director of the ACLU, proposes drastic rethinking of the rationale and restructuring of the mechanisms of punishment. First: scrap the whole idea of ""rehabilitation""; a myth dear to the hearts of liberals, it simply doesn't work; worse, in recent years it has begun to encompass ""behavior modification"" including such abominations as psychosurgery, electroshock, and exotic drugs. Second: abolish parole, a capricious and demeaning game which penalizes those who maintain their innocence and those who won't kowtow to their jailers. Citing a mountain of evidence that ""coerced 'treatment' of social deviancy"" is ineffectual, Neier would substitute shorter sentences of definite duration; he also wants to decriminalize addicts, drunks, hookers, ""incorrigible"" children, and others who commit victimless or status offenses. Since ""dangerousness diminishes with age"" (89% of serious crimes are committed by persons age 34 or under) he argues that 25-and 30-year sentences are superfluous; ""incapicitation""--lengthy prison stays--should be issued only to a relatively few dangerously violent persons. He would impose a maximum 3-year sentence even on murderers--if the killing was a crime of passion or a family fight (most murders are just that). A clear, forthright and modest writer, Neier has small hope that most of his reforms will be adopted. Our ""vestigial Puritan instincts,"" (to say nothing of the need of mayors and others to keep ""unsightly"" persons off the streets) will work against such sane reforms. Moreover, prisons like other bureaucracies tend not to shrink but grow. Still, if anyone is listening, this is a manageable program for unclogging court calendars, ending plea bargaining, and decreasing the expensive ($10,000 to $15,000 per year) incarceration of persons who would fare better out than in.