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March 30, 2009

NY Times editorial backs Senator Jim Webb's reform plans

This morning the New York Times has this editorial, titled "Reviewing Criminal Justice," which praises Senator Jim Webb's crime and punishment reform bill.  Here are excerpts:

America’s criminal justice system needs repair.  Prisons are overcrowded, sentencing policies are uneven and often unfair, ex-convicts are poorly integrated into society, and the growing problem of gang violence has not received the attention it deserves. For these and other reasons, a bill introduced last week by Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, should be given high priority on the Congressional calendar.

The bill, which has strong bipartisan support, would establish a national commission to review the system from top to bottom.  It is long overdue, and should be up and running as soon as possible....

Keeping people in prison who do not need to be there is not only unjust but also enormously expensive, which makes the problem a priority right now.  Hard-pressed states and localities that reduce prison costs will have more money to help the unemployed, avert layoffs of teachers and police officers, and keep hospitals operating....

The commission would be made up of recognized criminal justice experts, and charged with examining a range of policies that have emerged haphazardly across the country and recommending reforms. In addition to obvious problems like sentencing, the commission would bring much-needed scrutiny to issues like the special obstacles faced by the mentally ill in the system, as well as the shameful problem of prison violence.... 

There is no companion bill in the House, and one needs to be written.  Judging by the bipartisan support in the Senate, a national consensus has emerged that the criminal justice system is broken.

Relatedly, NPR's program "All Things Considered" had this segment on Senator Webb's reform efforts. Here is the set up:

Sen. Jim Webb introduced legislation last week establishing a blue-ribbon commission to retool the nation's prison system. The Virginia Democrat talks to host Jacki Lyden about the bill and why he feels the criminal justice system has to change.

Some related (old and new) posts:

March 30, 2009 at 10:30 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Why establish a brand new do-nothing commission instead of partially re-purposing the USSC? After all, they still have a vacant seat on the USSC they (the Prez and the Senate) could fill with a alternatives proponent. The USSC, despite all the bile so many in the defense community like to heap on it, was out front of Webb with their Alternatives Symposium last July which included serious discussions about bona fide solutions, not simply statements of the bloody obvious like Webb's "plan".

Posted by: dweedle | Mar 30, 2009 12:10:44 PM

"Keeping people in prison who do not need to be there is not only unjust but also enormously expensive, which makes the problem a priority right now."

People who make such statements overestimate their IQs by about 40 points. If we had a crystal ball which would tell us whom we could release, then the problem would be very easy to solve. But we don't have that, and so the NY Times is willing to roll the dice with public safety in the name of being "just". Not sure how that works. (And that's putting aside the issue of retribution.)

As I have said before, a prison bed is a scarce resource, and we should try to maximize the value we get for them. Moreover, it is clear that sometimes justice requires a commutation of a sentence and that incarceration of a person who would otherwise be able to contribute to society is clearly a cost. But there's a flipside too--incarceration of criminals has its own benefits too, ones that don't go away simply because there's a recession.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 30, 2009 3:21:18 PM

Iam the sister of Donna Duelley who has been place in a Feral prison camp ALDERSON WV. WHO COST THE TAXES PAYER 1/2 HALF A MILLION DOLLARS
TO TAKE THIS CASE TO TRAIL . DONNA PAID HER TAXES AND HAD BUSINESS THE FEDERAL GOVERMENT WASTED ALL THIS TIME AND MONEY FOR MONEY ,THAT SHE DIDN'T EVEN HAVE NOW THEY WANT 61,000.00 CAUSE THEY THINK SHE HAS IT SOME WHERE WELL LET ME TELL YOU THAT OUR MOTHER HAS A LOAN AGAINST HER HOME FOR 42,000.00 FOR A LAWYER THAT WE HAVE TO PAY FOR THE UP KEEP OF MOBLIE HOME , CAR PAYMENTS UNTIL THE FEDERAL GOVERMENT DECIDES IF THEY ARE GOING TO TAKE IT OR NOT?
WITH PAYING OUR OWN BILLS AND TRYING TO TAKE CARE OF HERS WELL WE JUST DONT HAVE THE MONEY TO DO ANY MORE WHERE IF SHE WAS HOME SHE COULD WORK AND PAY HER OWN BILLS ITS HER RESPONSIBILITY WHAT GOOD DOES IT DO FOR HER TO BE IMN PRISON IT JUST COST THE TAXES PAYERS MONEY MONEY THIS COUNTRY DOES NOT HAVE? SH HAS ALREADY SERVICE 8 MONTHS AND TELL HOW IS THIS HELPING HER ITS NOT
NOT ONLY HAS THE FEDERAL GOVERMENT TAKING HER LIVELY HOOD BUT THEY ALSO HAVE TAKEN MY MOTHERS , AND MINE AND HER SON WHICH HAS CEREBRAL PALSEY. i just wonder how many more family have been destoryed by the federal goverment i really feel they have discrimimated
TOWARDS DONNA AND THIS FAMILY

Posted by: carolyn | Apr 8, 2009 1:36:05 PM

We all need to give Sen. Webb our support. Prison Reform is long overdue. We need to present a much better face to the Free World, including Europe, and not appear to be heading in the direction of Adolf Hitler. Sen. Webb is much better than having George Allen back in the Senate. Allen is still boasting his ending parole (and removing all hope of a better tomorrow) and is also believed to be plotting to get back into Virginia politics. You don't cure crime by locking everyone up in jail. If the Republicans ever hope of any future electoral victory they MUST rid the party of the extremist faction.

Posted by: R.amon | Apr 8, 2009 4:32:59 PM

I am a 72 year old housewife. My
brother was found guilty of growing
a little bit of marijuana, he is 73
years old and they sent him to a
federal prison in Butner, N.Carolina
all of his family lives in Arkansas,
and he also lived in Arkansas, before they sent him to N. Carolina.
It is over 2000 miles round trip to
Butner and none of his family can visit him. He is in very bad health, and I am afraid he is not getting the attention that he needs. He is not a violent person and he was really set up. Thank you for all you do Sen. Webb

Posted by: Marjorie Freeman | Apr 12, 2009 9:21:03 PM

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