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February 2, 2013

Should a US Attorney take pride in helping to "have produced the longest average prison sentences in the country"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting local article coming from Indiana which a kind reader sent my way today.  The article is headlined "U.S. attorney plans additional efforts in 2013," and here are some excerpts which provide context for the query above:

Since his appointment to the job in late 2010, U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of Indiana Joseph Hogsett has steadily grown the office’s footprint.

He has done so by refocusing on existing efforts like the U.S. Attorney Office’s anti-child exploitation campaign Project Safe Childhood, but also by expanding the office’s reach with a violent crime initiative and creation of an interagency group to find and prosecute corruption and white-collar crimes.  “I plan to continue many of those priorities and hopefully add a few more in 2013,” he said.  “I would like to see it continue to expand.”

With 60 counties in the district, Hogsett’s efforts affect nearly two-thirds of the state. The U.S. attorney’s office maintains offices in Indianapolis, Evansville, New Albany and Terre Haute — all of which are cities with federal courthouses.

In 2012, an additional full-time attorney was added to the Evansville office, as well as a part-time special deputy U.S. Attorney who also works part-time in the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office, and who serves as liaison between the two. In addition, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Brookman from the Evansville office was appointed to lead the district’s drug unit, supervising a team of attorneys both Evansville and Indianapolis.

Hogsett’s most recent effort has been the creation of a Civil Rights Task Force. The idea is to take a more active roll in investigating and pursuing legal actions on cases in which the civil rights of Indiana are endangered.

Hogsett said it will take a broad view of civil rights and include attorneys from the civil and criminal divisions of the office. “I am not talking just racial actions but also areas such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” he said, adding he would like to make a difference in the areas of fair housing and fair lending.

He pointed to recent cases from his office that involved service animals being allowed in restaurants and an agreement with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to comply with the ADA, as well as prosecuting multiple cases of intimidating acts based on race or ethnicity....

[H]e said pursuing civil rights violations will take more effort than other initiatives. “The others have largely depended on relationships with law enforcement. This Civil Rights Task Force is going to require us to do a lot of outreach to the community.”

Hogsett’s previous initiatives have brought measurable results.  Prosecutions in the Southern District of Indiana have produced the longest average prison sentences in the country over the last two years, according to an annual report compiled by the office. Hogsett attributes much of the office’s success to cooperation with local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies.

The question in the title of this post emerges from the penultimate sentence above that I have highlighted. I do not mean to suggest an answer to the question, but I sense of the context of this laudatory press report that Mr. Hogsett and those within his office are (1) keeping close track of sentencing outcomes, and (2) seem to consider it an accomplishment worth noting to the press that recent prosecutions in Southern District of Indiana have resulted in the harshest average prison sentences over the last 24 months among all 90+ federal districts.

Having never been a federal prosecutor, I am not sure if it is unusual or common for a US Attorney's office to keep very close account of sentencing outcomes and to use those outcomes as a metric of importance in the work of that office. But I am sure I would not like to hear that US Attorneys and their assistants in other federal districts would be likely to react to this story by deciding they need to try to best Mr. Hogsett's efforts to produce the longest average federal prison sentences in the country. More broadly, I sure hope at both the federal and state levels that many more prosecutors look for decreases in local crime rates, rather than increases in the severity of sentencing outcomes, as the preferred metric for evaluating their accomplishments as prosecutors.

February 2, 2013 at 04:16 PM | Permalink

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Comments

He should take pride only if crime has decreased in his jurisdiction.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 2, 2013 11:25:35 PM

Doug:

It depends upon your perspective.

If you believe that longer sentences are the result of respect for the law, a greater appreciation for suffering of the victims, an effort to deter more crimes, all woth a foundation in justice, then, yes, it is something to be proud of and to strive for.

The US violent crime rate is now at a 41 year low, with the violent crime rate having dropped 50% in the past 21 years, I suspect, largely due to an incarceration rate which has tripled since the 1960's, when crime rates started to skyrocket.

Currently, 7 European countries have higher violent crime rates than the US.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Feb 3, 2013 10:04:27 AM

I think length of sentence, on its own, a poor approximation for much of anything. I wouldn't brag about this, nor have I ever seen that U.S. Atty's office in my district--a very thoughtful and prestigious one--do so.

Posted by: Larry | Feb 3, 2013 4:58:26 PM

I am willing to overlook the one comment about the lenght of sentences in light of all the positive things this USA appears to be doing. I do agreee with Larry that length of sentence is a poor proxy for doing justice. Just like the length of Bill Otis' comments are a poor proxy for anything important.

Posted by: SteveProf | Feb 3, 2013 8:27:50 PM

It would only be commendable if it came as a result of bringing fewer BS charges and focusing on serious offenses. That would result in longer average sentences and would also be a better use of limited resources.

Posted by: Ala JD | Feb 4, 2013 10:41:26 AM

The information which has been shared here is simply interesting and informative.

Posted by: Fort Walton Attorney | Mar 15, 2013 8:05:29 PM

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