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February 4, 2009

After fast work on excessive pay, now how about similar work on excessive sentences?

As detailed in this CNN piece, President Obama and his administration is responding quickly to last week's news that corporate executives handed out $18 billion in bonuses in 2008.  While I am disinclined to opine on the specifics of such matters, I am pleased the new folks in DC are concerned about how my tax dollars are being spent on Wall Street.  Now, with the new Attorney General in place, the new administration should start showing similar concern for how taxpayer dollars are being spent on Main Street.

Specifically, as highlighted in many prior posts (examples here and here), states are struggling with tight budgets and are having to make hard choices about the prison economy.  Along the way, many states are asking for taxpayer dollars from the federal government (here is a piece about Ohio's eagerness for stimulus dollars).  Just as President Obama is seeking to limit excessive corporate pay for any company requesting monies from the feds, how about also seeking limits on excessive and costly imprisonment terms for any state requesting monies from the feds?

There is significant precedent for tying federal aid to state sentencing reform efforts: during the Clinton years, the feds required states to eliminate parole in order to get certain funds; during the Bush years, the feds required states to change sex offender registration laws to get certain funds.  For so many reasons, the feds ought to try this method again, but do so in ways that encourage states to make more sensible choices concerning short and long-term corrections spending. 

Sadly, other than perhaps Senator Jim Webb, I doubt any other politician inside DC has the insight and the courage to even consider such a bold idea to these festering prison economy problems.  Still, this kind of prison economy reform would not have to have a legislative push to get started.  President Obama could jump-start cost-oriented sentencing reforms by just granting a few clemencies to non-violent first offenders while stressing the savings from no longer having to use federal tax-payer dollars to continue housing and feeding offenders who clearly pose no threat to public safety.

Some recent related posts:

February 4, 2009 at 10:29 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Here's an interesting case:

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AFGHANISTAN_CONTRACTOR_KILLING?SITE=FLTAM&SECTION=US

What should his sentence be?

Posted by: federalist | Feb 4, 2009 4:14:48 PM

Well this may sound way out as an political economic analysis of our "system", but for corporations and their masters to maximize their profits and paychecks they actually need a fairly high unemployment and high incarceration rate (for the zero percenters and the regular public) to keep price setting in their favor and labor costs minimal. That is one reason they fought any sembalance of health care reform with everything they had, (like the entire republican party). Your assuming madison avenues illusion of a democracy, and that for some the pay is excessive. But to them, its their entitlement and that the entire workforce is but a necessary evil that hopefully they can either pay low or lock up with impunity. Interesting enough, its getting so a simple arrest record makes certain categorys of workers virtually unemployable permanently in any "half decent" job. It use to be a criminal conviction was required, but that is changing to a simple arrest in any security or professional licensing position and its expanding. So again they merge two groups to form a permanent underclass and unemployable class. It works exceedingly well for those at the top.

Posted by: Brian | Apr 12, 2010 12:40:59 AM

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