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May 26, 2011

William Bennett says "'Lock 'em up' not always best solution"

Adding to the chorus of Republicans making a prominent pitch for sensible sentencing reforms, former drug czar William J. Bennett has this new commentary at CNN.  Here are excerpts:

As budget battles in Washington and the states unfold, politicians are striving to achieve the most for their money, pinpointing where they can cut spending without sacrificing service.  Although lowering spending can mean major overhauls to a lot of services, some states have realized that with a little outside-the-box thinking, corrections reform can simultaneously decrease the taxpayer burden and increase the efficacy of criminal justice systems.

In 2007, Texas launched this legislative trend of cutting corrections costs without sacrificing its tough-on-crime principles.  It has achieved this by making an effort to divert low-risk, nonviolent offenders from prison and rehabilitate them through community treatment programs and tighter supervision of probationers and parolees.  This effort has saved Texans more than $1 billion on corrections costs, decreased probation revocations by 4%, shrunk parole revocations by 25% and lowered incarceration by 9.2%. These reforms coincided with Texas achieving its lowest crime rate since 1973.

A famously tough-on-crime state, Texas is proving "lock them up and throw away the key" is not always the best solution, and leaders around the country are beginning to agree.  In December 2010, I joined Right on Crime, a coalition of conservatives, including former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese and prison reform advocate Chuck Colson, that promotes the truly conservative case for criminal justice reform.  It is a platform that promotes traditional conservative values such as accountability, limited government and fiscal responsibility.

Including Texas, a dozen states have adopted policies consistent with Right on Crime's ideals, and reform is pending in several other states, including Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. The details of the legislation vary state to state, but the overarching goals of lower cost and higher effectiveness are the same....

Many states, such as Ohio, Illinois, Nevada and Vermont, are shifting away from incarceration to alternate sentencing for low-risk, nonviolent offenders. By capitalizing on probation and parole programs that use evidence-based practices such as drug courts, electronic shackling and increased community sentencing measures, states have been successful at turning offenders into rehabilitated, taxpaying community members....

Tough-on-crime conservatives can lead the cause of criminal justice reform in a way that should garner bipartisan support, demonstrating that "tough on crime" can also be smart on crime and tough on spending. Conservative-thinking leaders are fighting to cut spending across the country, working to improve efficiency and save taxpayer dollars.  As the budget battle wears on, corrections policy offers legislators a way to cut spending without sacrificing results, producing as close to a win-win solution as possible in politics.

May 26, 2011 at 12:40 PM | Permalink


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Perhaps Mr. Bennett will now apologize for promulgating the completely false "super-predator" thesis in the early 1990s, which did more to explode the prison population than just about anything else.

Posted by: Great News | May 26, 2011 12:53:41 PM

Interesting article. Whenever I hear about community-based alternative sentencing programs, though, I can't help but think about the widespread move from institutionalizing the seriously mentally ill in favor of community mental health programs in the 80's. Community-based mental health programs are chronically underfunded and are dysfunctional as a result.

Because of the failure of Community Mental Health, we've come to see the mentally ill go through a revolving door of hospitals, prisons, and state mental institutions. While maybe state hospitals are where they belong all along, they have limited bed space and inevitably kick patients back out onto the street. The other two corners of the triangle have much higher costs of delivery than mental hospitals, and it leads me to wonder if we are paying a higher social and budgetary cost by reducing institutionalization in the first place.

I don't know how well this analogizes to corrections, and I believe fewer people in prison is better than more people in prison. However, I think maybe we'd be better off accomplishing that by just de-criminalizing some of those non-violent offenses (read: drug crimes) which throw so many people into the system in the first place.

Posted by: T.O. | May 26, 2011 5:39:24 PM

Maybe Mr. Bennett and Mr. Meese can use their influence to have the prison terms prescribed by the federal sentencing guidelines cut in half.

See Testimony of Justice Anthony Kennedy before the Senate Judiciary Committee February 14, 2007 in response to Senator Whitehouse:“Our sentences are too long, our sentences are too severe, our sentences are too harsh... [and because there are so few pardons] there is no compassion in the system. There’s no mercy in the system,” found at the video link accessible at Professor Berman’s Sentencing Law and Policy Blog of Feb. 15, 2007);

Frank O. Bowman, III, “The Failure of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines: A Structural Analysis” 105 Colum. L. Rev. 1315 (May, 2005) (“At or near the root of virtually every serious criticism of the guidelines is the concern that they are too harsh, that federal law requires imposition of prison sentences too often and for terms that are too long...by any standard the severity and frequency of punishment imposed by the federal criminal process during the guideline era is markedly greater than it had been before...the length of imposed sentences has nearly tripled...as a consequence since the 1980’s federal inmate populations have increased by more than 600%”).

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | May 26, 2011 5:54:47 PM

Here’s what some prominent scholars think of our system of punishment: “American punishment is comparatively harsh, comparatively degrading, comparatively slow to show mercy.” James Q. Whitman, Harsh Justice (Oxford Press 2003). “Contemporary policies concerning crime and punishment are the harshest in American history and of any Western country.” Michael Tonry, The Handbook of Crime And Punishment (Oxford Press 1998) paperback ed. at page 3

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | May 26, 2011 7:07:52 PM

"William Bennett says "'Lock 'em up' not always best solution'."

Now if we could just get someone on the Left to say, "'Release 'em now' not always best solution."

Maybe at the same time, we could get an admission that (1) the mantra that they're all innocent is tripe; (2) the mantra that they're all "first time, low-level pot offenders" is tripe; and (3) the mantra that imprisonment does not reduce crime in not merely tripe, but crazy.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 26, 2011 9:46:01 PM

Ending the war on durgs and reudcing sentences is a natural conservative consideration. This is a fiscally responsible position. It reduces government intrusion in life style issues and it is a matter of civil liberties.

Posted by: beth | May 26, 2011 10:17:30 PM


I am more conservative than you, you government (liberal/conservative don't mean s__t) apologist. You are proud of the government and do not see the leprosy scales all throughout it. You profit from it!

Release now, those whose crimes were obstruction of justice.

Release now, those whose crimes were facilitated by entrapment via the internet by LE.

Release now, those incarcerated for lying to a federal agent. (Politicians lie when they open their mouths and are not held accountable by a publically educated (i.e. moronic voting majority)) supported by MSM.

We are broke because of a lying, worthless Congress and the USSC who cannot spell Constitution, much less understand it.

Free those whose actions for which they were prosecuted (or pled down to) resulted in no physical, financial, property or emotional harm.

Posted by: albeed | May 26, 2011 10:55:25 PM

Michael, I agree, federal sentences are double in length..Serve %87.2 and Sup release is also too long and restrictive...Albeed, good comments, I agree...Bill
got a pre-booker guideline chip installed and can not get past it, no matter
what the topic...Its just longer sentences for everyone, except for Judge Camp, he is extra special...Some say that calif shoulnt let anyone out, even 1 life is too precious...How about the innocent that get freed, should we have executed them sooner, so they couldn't prove their innocence...No...Most all have a release date, they need %50 good time days....to speed the out...Yes keep the bad boys, but a thick chapter of owi, weed and minor charges, doesn't call for huge sentences....

Posted by: Josh | May 27, 2011 12:31:49 AM


I have not heard from SC in ages (36 hours). What have you and your Men in Black done with him?

Maybe one of the government hit squads (One of thousands of SWAT Teams have taken him out. Am I next?)

Free SC NOW!

Free Judge Camp NOW also! Oh wait, he was already released. Forget it!

Well, I am off to my beach house (no computers). Back in 72 hours. If you do not hear from me, I have been held captive by government Goons. The next cry should be:

Free Albeed Now!

Posted by: albeed | May 27, 2011 8:12:47 AM

What about all the foreign inmates that are clogging up our prisons? Most of them will be deported at the end of their sentences, so why are we paying for their incarceration? Why dont we deport them now instead of paying to lock them up for 10years or more only to deport them at the end of the sentence? In most cases there are treaties in place that would allow for them to go home and serve their sentences there, but the Dept of Justice does not honor them.

Posted by: Tom | May 27, 2011 8:47:57 AM

I am more conservative than you"

As am I Albeed, waaaaaaaay more but Bill likes to characterize anyone who disagrees with him as a flaming bleeding heart liberal. Great comments

"Bill got a pre-booker guideline chip installed and cannot get past it, no matter
what the topic..."

Good one Josh, you nailed it.

Posted by: Thomas | May 27, 2011 10:29:05 AM

couldn't agree more tom!

"What about all the foreign inmates that are clogging up our prisons? Most of them will be deported at the end of their sentences, so why are we paying for their incarceration? Why dont we deport them now instead of paying to lock them up for 10years or more only to deport them at the end of the sentence? In most cases there are treaties in place that would allow for them to go home and serve their sentences there, but the Dept of Justice does not honor them."

With one SMALL additon!

on their way out of the country. their DNA and physical info will be taken a kept and the individual notified that if they are caught on american territory again without a the LEGAL permission of the U.S. Govt they will simplly be identified by thier DNA and upon positive id EXECUTED!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 27, 2011 12:23:05 PM

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