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August 3, 2009

AG Holder continues to talk about being "smart on crime" (and other important stuff)

Continue his stumping for new approaches to crime and punishment (see prior speeches noted here and here and here), Attorney General Eric Holder earlier today gave a keynote address to the ABA House of Delegates outlining the Department of Justice's latest vision and priorities for reform of the nation's criminal justice systems.  Some of the speech reiterates points made by AG Holder in prior speeches, but there is some new stuff in this ABA speech (and some old stuff worth hearing again). 

An audio recording of AG Holder's remarks can be found at this link and the full text is available here.  The audio reveals ovations from the crowd during Holder's remark about improving indigent defense systems and DNA availability (and also a gentle dig at the outset about patent law).  Here are a few sentencing-oriented highlights from the text:

By 2007, the nation’s violent crime rate had dropped by almost 40% from its peak in 1991. Few would dispute that the imprisonment of offenders has been at least partially responsible for this dramatic drop in crime rates. But just as everyone should agree that incarceration is — and will continue to be — part of the answer, everyone should also agree that it is not the whole answer. And so, we at the Department of Justice will continue to put the people who threaten our communities where they belong — behind bars. But we will also recognize that imprisonment alone is not a complete strategy for enforcing our nation’s criminal laws, and we will act on that fact.

We will not focus exclusively on incarceration as the most effective means of protecting public safety.  For although spending on prison construction continues to increase, public safety is not continuing to improve.  Crime rates appear to have reached a plateau beyond which they no longer decline in response to increases in incarceration. Indeed, since 2003, spending on incarceration has continued to rise, but crime rates have flattened.

But there is another reason to consider new law enforcement strategies: simple dollars and cents, and the principle of diminishing marginal returns.  Every state in the Union is trying to trim budgets. States and localities are laying off teachers, cutting back on public health, and canceling after-school programs for our children.  But in almost all cases, spending on prisons continues to rise. This is unsustainable economically.  Many jurisdictions simply cannot afford the monetary costs of focusing exclusively on incarceration, to say nothing of the social costs associated with high rates of imprisonment.

So what can we do to lower the crime rate further, to make American communities safer, and to get smarter on crime? We need to add new tools and new strategies to our existing efforts to fight crime. One of these strategies is to look several steps past the point where we put people in prison, and to consider what happens to those people after they leave prison and reenter society....

Adapting our law enforcement strategies to get smart on crime is both necessary and possible — if we are willing to demand it.  The challenges we face have evolved with time. But the opportunities available to us have changed too.  We are able to compare the cost and suitability of different criminal justice strategies.  We no longer must choose between more prisoners or more crime: we can reduce our dependence on incarceration and we can reduce crime rates.  At the same time we can increase the integrity of our criminal justice system.  We can harness science and data to tackle emerging problems and to preserve our foundational principles. The more we know, the better we can do, the more sophisticated we can be.

If all of us — judges, attorneys, law enforcement personnel, corrections officials, Justice Department lawyers, policymakers, and all Americans concerned with the cause of safe streets and equal justice — approach these challenges with open minds and determined action, there is no question that a smarter- and better- criminal justice system is within our grasp.

August 3, 2009 at 08:52 PM | Permalink

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"By 2007, the nation’s violent crime rate had dropped by almost 40% from its peak in 1991. Few would dispute that the imprisonment of offenders has been at least partially responsible for this dramatic drop in crime rates. But just as everyone should agree that incarceration is — and will continue to be — part of the answer, everyone should also agree that it is not the whole answer."

Here comes the Scalia Bounce.

We should all pray. He should make a wrong turn and go 1 block off course in Washington DC, and get jacked by a criminal lover lawyer client.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 3, 2009 9:06:27 PM

I wonder if anyone has remarked on the similarity of the ambitions of Rumsfeld and Holder---to take a hidebound institution/set of institutions that functions largely based on models that are decades or centuries old, and often gets the job done more or less by brute, overwhelming force, and try to update it to function in a much more efficient, targeted way.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 4, 2009 9:44:06 AM

"and to consider what happens to those people after they leave prison and reenter society"....

Well.....you could give many of them a real chance at success by passing H.R.1529. No free rides, just a chance. Listen to the testimony of Kathy Norris and Kirster Evertson before the subcommittee on crime hearing "Over-Criminalization of Conduct/Over-Federalization of Criminal Law" July 22.
http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/hear_090722_2.html H.R. 1529 is the answer

Posted by: HadEnough | Aug 4, 2009 12:55:30 PM

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