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July 26, 2012

Annual DOJ letter to USSC urges making "our public safety expenditures smarter and more productive"

A helpful reader informed me that the annual letter sent by the Justice Department's Criminal Division to the US Sentencing Commission commenting on the operation of the federal sentencing guidelines and other matters is now available on-line at this link. This 11-page letter has many extraordinary passages and interesting facets; the letter demands to be read in full.  Here are just parts of the first section of the letter a few that struck me as especially blog-worthy:

As a country, over several decades, we steadily increased funding for criminal justice agencies at all levels of government, supporting numerous programs and initiatives that changed the way the nation approached crime and criminal justice. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, state and local criminal justice spending (including law enforcement, criminal prosecution, courts, and corrections) rose from approximately $32.6 billion to $186.2 billion between 1982 and 2006.... Similarly, federal justice system expenditures steadily increased from $4.5 billion in 1982 to $41 billion in 2006.... These investments have meant more police on the streets, more court personnel of all kinds, more offenders behind bars, more treatment, prevention and intervention programs, and greater research and innovation across the criminal justice system.

The result of these and many other policy changes and investments has been the mirror image of the violent crime increases of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that in 2011, the number of violent crimes fell by 4 percent across the country, and the number of murders fell by 1.9 percent.  These are the latest bits of extraordinarily good news about violent crime in the United States that span back to 1992.  The good news — a massive reduction in violent crime — marks a tremendous achievement of government. Violent crime in the United States is now at the lowest levels in generations, when only 20 years earlier, we were experiencing the highest levels of violent crime in the post-war period....

While not every U.S. city experienced the reduction in violent crime numbers, the broad trend touched most of the country.  Our two largest cities have seen among the biggest drops in violent crime over the past two decades.... In 2011, 64 percent of all large U.S. cities reported a decrease in violent crime.... In a stunning and all-too-easily forgotten way, our governmental collaboration has improved the day-to-day safety of communities large and small, rich and poor, and the day-to-day lives of men, women and children throughout the nation.

Recently, though, the situation has changed. As has been well documented, the financial crisis of 2008 — and the recession that followed — brought steep cuts in state and local government spending. As a result, state and local investments in criminal justice programs have been declining for several years.... At the federal level, the Budget Control Act sent a clear signal that the steady growth in the budgets of the Department of Justice, other federal enforcement agencies, and the federal courts experienced over the past 15 years has come to an end.  Overall budgets have mostly been flat over the past three years.  However, as prison and detention spending has increased, other criminal justice spending, including aid to state and local enforcement and prevention and intervention programs, has decreased.  In fact, the trend of greater prison spending crowding out other criminal justice investments goes back at least a decade and has caused a significant change in the distribution of discretionary finding among the Department's various activities....

Taken together, reductions in public safety spending that have already occurred and that are likely to continue in the coming years mean that the remarkable public safety achievements of the last 20 years are threatened unless reforms are instituted to make our public safety expenditures smarter and more productive.  In late 2011 and early 2012, we have already seen some cities experience increases in violent crime.  The question our country faces today is how can we continue to build on our success in combating crime and ensuring the fair and effective administration of justice in a time of limited criminal justice resources at all levels of government?  In other words, how will the country ensure sufficient investments in public safety, and how will those involved in crime policy ensure that every dollar invested in public safety is spent in the most productive way possible?

July 26, 2012 at 08:35 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Q: "... how will those involved in crime policy ensure that every dollar invested in public safety is spent in the most productive way possible?"

A: As Sir Walter Hamilton Moberly put it, "The busiest hangman can do little for the protection of society in comparison with an efficient police force."

Spend more on certainty, less on severity.

Certainty of punishment deters better than severity.

Increase funding for enforcement, prevention and intervention programs by reducing prison and detention spending.

Reduce prison and detention spending by incarcerating fewer first time non-violent offenders: Revise the sentencing guidelines (and policy statements) to reflect (ala Gall):

(A) that probationary sentences are not granted out of a spirit of leniency or to let an offender off easily; and,

(B) that probation-- imposed with case-specific conditions-- can achieve the just goals of sentencing far more often than the current guidelines suggest.

Posted by: Defense Attorney Timothy P. Polishan | Jul 26, 2012 4:51:01 PM

Wait just one d*** minute!
this article seems to start out by scrutinizing the gross over-spending by government on litigation, correction and prosecution over the last few decades...
Now, having read the posted portion, it seems that these boobs are not only patting themselves on the back for having reduced crime but advocating spending more on the same programs which, even though them may look good on the surface, are completely undermining the strength of a society that requires less persecution and more direction!
I'm guessing that the lessons taught by Ancient Rome, Nazi Germany and the USSR have fallen on deaf ears! The more the balance of power shifts away from the common man, the more likely that the society will fail. it's been proven and it WILL happen again...
What I don't know is how these people can be so blind...

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