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March 16, 2014

NY Times sees "A Rare Opportunity on Criminal Justice"

The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this new New York Times editorial about federal sentencing reform.  Here are excerpts:

The current Congress is the place where virtually all legislation, however urgent or reasonable, goes to die.  Yet out of this stew of partisan mistrust and dysfunction there may come one promising and unexpected achievement: the first major reforms to America’s broken criminal justice system in a generation.

Two bipartisan bills now under consideration aim to unwind our decades-long mass incarceration binge and to keep it from happening again. This fact is remarkable not only because of Congress’s stubborn standstill, but because crime and punishment has long been one of the most combustible issues in American politics....

The Smarter Sentencing Act — introduced in the Senate last year by Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, and Mike Lee, the Utah Republican — would halve mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug crimes, which currently stand at five, 10 and 20 years. It would also give judges more discretion to sentence below the mandatory minimum in some cases, and it would provide a chance at early release for thousands of inmates sentenced under an older law that disproportionately punished crack cocaine offenders.

The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, introduced by Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and John Cornyn, the Texas Republican, would allow low-risk prisoners to earn credit for early release by participating in education, job training and drug treatment programs.

Reforms like these were unthinkable even a few years ago, when the Republicans’ longtime tough-on-crime dogma — echoed by Democrats who fearfully fell into line — drove irrational sentencing laws. Why have things changed so quickly? In a word, money — or the lack of it. The bloated Bureau of Prisons eats up nearly $7 billion a year, a quarter of the Justice Department’s entire budget. Politicians like Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, and Mr. Lee have become the public face of the conservative turnabout, and they deserve credit for their efforts, but it’s important to remember that almost none of this would be happening without the need to save money.

In fact, many of the reforms now under consideration at the federal level began in reliably conservative states, where budget crises long ago demanded sweeping and lasting change. In Texas, which incarcerates more people than any other state, lawmakers have adopted alternatives to prison, such as drug courts and improved community supervision programs, that help keep people from reoffending. The result has been a steady decline in the prison population and the closing of three state prisons, even as crime rates go down. As Mr. Cornyn told The Times, “From Texas’s perspective, the evidence is in.”

Since 2000, 29 states have moved to cut back on mandatory sentences, particularly for low-level and nonviolent drug offenders, according to a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice.

Some prosecutors and politicians warn that all this reform comes at a serious risk to public safety, but the experience of multiple states shows otherwise.  Reserving prison for the most violent offenders saves money, and antirecidivism programs targeted at low-risk inmates protect public safety.

Whether the concern is too much government, too little money, or the inherent unfairness of locking people up for years for no good reason, the energy from both the right and the left is converging, and the moment for meaningful reform has arrived.

Though I share the general perspective that there is a “fierce urgency of now" for federal sentencing reforms, I disagree that money explains these recent developments at the federal level.  States, especially red states, have been at the forefront of modern sentencing reforms because of the need to balance budgets without raising taxes, but the feds have long shown a willingness to borrow money for any and all federal priorities. Rather, I think there is a new generation of politicians and voters who no longer view crime as much more salient concern than just and effective punishment.

Younger and more diverse politicians and voters appreciate that too much government and punishment can be as worrisome as a bit more crime, and that is what I think we are now finally getting a much more balanced federal political discourse about these issues than we did a generation ago. (Notably, the Baby Boomers were the first major generation who did not directly experience/witness the harms/problems of Prohobition and totalitarian regimes, so it makes some sense that generation would embrace a big criminal justice system eschewed by their parents and their children.)

March 16, 2014 at 04:55 PM | Permalink

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Comments

They should be looking to jack up the punishments for certain other crimes, like trafficking in women. Pimping minors should be hammered.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 16, 2014 5:09:57 PM

Doug --

"Younger and more diverse politicians and voters appreciate that too much government and punishment can be as worrisome as a bit more crime..."

How much exactly is "a bit"?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 16, 2014 6:26:56 PM

Federalist,

Beware the human trafficking 'epidemic'. There is a lot of fudging going in with the numbers, and a lot of speculation rather than statistics. Many journalists are wondering: where are the victims? There's a lot of conflation between normal prostitution and human trafficking, and most pimps that were surveyed in a recent report all asserted that violence was rare, and that it wasn't worth their time with so many willing women. I can dig up the study, it was just a week ago or so.

Further I'm aware of one case that was a sting where an ICE agent approached a person on an adult dating site (whose ad the agent testified was not for a minor) and offered to have someone live with him. He agreed after being told by the agent the person wasnt being trafficked, and was arrested for, you guessed it, human trafficking.

Posted by: Riley | Mar 16, 2014 7:50:02 PM

Riley --

"...most pimps that were surveyed in a recent report all asserted that violence was rare, and that it wasn't worth their time with so many willing women."

Without doubt, we should take the word of surveyed pimps.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 16, 2014 7:58:39 PM

"Riley --

"...most pimps that were surveyed in a recent report all asserted that violence was rare, and that it wasn't worth their time with so many willing women."

Without doubt, we should take the word of surveyed pimps."

I'll take the word of pimps as much as I'll take the word of a "vote whore" who always need a victim to distract the population to the real pimping that is going on, that is, the ignorant voters.

Posted by: albeed | Mar 16, 2014 8:24:47 PM

Epidemic or not, the punishment for the sexual enslavement of minors needs to be very very harsh.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 16, 2014 8:27:16 PM

I'm actually more convinced by the lack of victims actually saved. Law Enforcement press releases are fine, but there are questions as to where the money is a actually going because the victims aren't using it. There was a petition to charge Sam Olens (Attorney General in Georgia) for inflating the numbers last year to get grant money, that mostly went to police computers and SUVs

The study can be found on urban.org, its on the front page if anyone is interested. Back to your scheduled bickering.

Posted by: Riley | Mar 16, 2014 8:28:09 PM

Pimps are obsolete, as is enslavement outside of primitive areas. People are promoting themselves on the net, and keeping all the fees.

And the real age of majority, in nature, in 10,000 years of human history is at puberty, age 14.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 16, 2014 9:16:04 PM

Sure, when it is legitimate, it should be prosecuted, no question. Just as when someone skins another alive it is heinous and should be a serious offense. As it stand human trafficking at federal level begins at 10 years mandatory and the guidelines are harsh (1591).

Thus far, its not ubiquitous enough to have the extra budgets and attention it is getting, and there is a lot of funny business going on with the grant money and arrests for human trafficking. It's been a curious thing to watch. Originally the numbers quoted were 300,000 a year, which came from University of Pennsylvania estimate based on minors that lived along the borders (seriously). Its shrunk considerably, but you still see numbers like 100,000 or 300,000 floated by grant grubbers like the Shapiro Group. Leaving everyone to ask: we've been at this for years, how many *actual* victims have been saved from "sexual servitude", and does that justify the amount of money and press coverage it is getting?

Posted by: Riley | Mar 16, 2014 9:23:39 PM

@federalist.

Tolerance for me but not for thee, is that how it goes? Doug's thesis is that a new generation of politicians wants less criminal justice period, not simply move the cheese. I'm skeptical of that thesis myself because the public needs an internal bogeyman. Once upon a time it was gays, then it was drug lords, soon if you have your way it will be pedophiles. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 16, 2014 11:35:47 PM

works for me fed. As long as it's attached to a companion bill that requires summery execution for any politician or high govt employee caught in a lie about their official duties.

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 17, 2014 12:04:58 AM

Daniel --

Isn't a bogeyman a mythical creature that poses no real danger and does no actual harm? If so, it's incorrect to refer to drug lords and pedophiles as "bogeymen," since both are real, pose considerable danger, and create significant harm.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 17, 2014 9:41:43 AM

I think he is getting at the concept of "moral panics", as they are called. Think of the belief by many during the 80s in widespread Satanic rituals and corruption of youth through Satanisn, or the modern "Stranger Danger" sex offender laws created in reaction to specific bad cases.

Posted by: Riley | Mar 17, 2014 1:02:46 PM

Riley --

Do you believe drug lords and pedophiles -- the sorts of people Daniel pointed to -- are mere bogeymen?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 17, 2014 1:16:26 PM

Pedophilia is a diagnostic term for a specific paraphilia, not a crime. Child molestation and abduction are acts that are is a criminal. They are disproportionately committed by figures close to the child, not by strangers. Statistically, stranger danger is a boogeyman.

Marijuana use is a boogeyman, yes. That it has remained a Schedule 1 drug for so long is preposterous. Others, like cocaine and certain opioids, may be similar. Heroin and Meth are very serious issues.

Posted by: Riley | Mar 17, 2014 2:42:42 PM

The feds are the real bogeymen, they are a real danger to you, your children and your pocketbook through lies and misinformation. Compared to them, drug lords and non-acting pedophiles are mere nuisances. The current definition of sex-offenders are witch-hunts created by government officials (bogeymen) to separate you from your money and your God-given (not government permitted) Constitutional and Human Rights! I present as Exhibit A the classification of marijuana as Schedule 1.

Posted by: albeed | Mar 17, 2014 3:28:28 PM

Here is a "fun" statistic I learned recently. Between 2000-2009 there were 260 documented cases of children killed by domesticated dogs. During that time period there were approximately 110 children killed in relationship to sexual abuse. In fact, in 2011 deaths involving sexual abuse made up less than 1% of all death to abused children.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24299544

https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/fatality.pdf#page=2&view=How%20Many%20Children%20Die%20Each%20Year%20From%20Child%20Abuse%20and%20Neglect?

So no Bill pedophiles do not poses a "considerable danger". In fact, they pose less danger than dogs do.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 17, 2014 3:36:53 PM

Daniel writes: "Here is a "fun" statistic I learned recently. Between 2000-2009 there were 260 documented cases of children killed by domesticated dogs. During that time period there were approximately 110 children killed in relationship to sexual abuse. In fact, in 2011 deaths involving sexual abuse made up less than 1% of all death to abused children."

And to add to stats, who can tell us how many children were killed by firearms from 2000-2009?

Posted by: anon | Mar 17, 2014 8:59:08 PM

In response to anon, I found this in two second though I can't vouch for its accuracy: "Over 7,000 children are hospitalized or killed due to gun violence every year, according to a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics. An additional 3,000 children die from gun injuries before making it to the hospital, bringing the total number of injured or killed adolescents to 10,000 each year. The new study, led by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine, highlights the toll gun violence has on child mortality rates in the country. Doctors surveyed the most recently released data from 2009 that tracked pediatric hospital stays."

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Mar 17, 2014 9:02:37 PM

had not seen that one Michael. Maybe all those cops that are out making sure those evil sex criminals with 20 year old conviction are not 999 ft from the local school should instead be out tracking all those guns.

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 17, 2014 11:45:58 PM

Daniel --

The 110 child deaths during sexual abuse, grotesque and horrifying as they are, are a gross understatement of the harm caused by abusing children in that way. Only a tiny fraction of children sexually abused will die; by far the greater number will "merely" be severely psychologically (and perhaps physically) injured for life.

I therefore continue to maintain that pedophilia is not a "bogeyman," and is, to the contrary, the source of real and appalling harm. I would be perfectly willing to say so under oath, as would, I feel confident in guessing, virtually every commenter on the board, even those who of late have taken to smearing my wife as a kapo.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 18, 2014 1:49:18 AM

Bill:

Before I agree or disagree with you, please define "child" and "molest". The government perversions of these terms is what I have a problem with, along with the BLANKET use of "age of majority", which as SC points out has been bastardized by our fearless leaders. Willingness and active participation by those over the historical age of majority should allow for lesser charges (misdemeanors at most) and they are not forever damaged goods, where there is no force, intimidation, threat, incapacitation, coercion or deception. We may agree that there is harm to real children (under 13), but I believe the rest of the governments reasoning is poppycock and therefore the government is also the bogeyman.

Posted by: albeed | Mar 18, 2014 8:42:25 AM

PS:

I also agree with you that the reference to your wife as "kapo" was grossly inappropriate, but as has been noted elsewhere, I am not the policeperson on this board and you know how to handle it.

Posted by: albeed | Mar 18, 2014 8:49:21 AM

Pathetic is an apt word to describe the fact that Bill Otis
must exert effort to convince educated people that human
“sex” trafficking and child molestation are wicked, destructive,
and phenomenological realities to be vigorously combated.

Why not join us in squelching these threats?
Though they be not the totality of the dangers, should we tolerate the stranger attack
because it is not the dominate form? ...... ...... Should we countenance sex trafficking
because it overlaps prostitution, such a boon for young women?

And are you not abhorring that which is good;
downplaying and mollifying what is evil?
I am not proclaiming moral superiority;
you gits are affirming moral depravity.

| “Beware the human trafficking 'epidemic'.” –Riley|
| “the public needs an internal bogeyman … soon if you have your way it will be pedophiles.” –Daniel|
| “Pedophilia is a diagnostic term for a specific paraphilia, not a crime. … Statistically, stranger danger is a boogeyman.” –Riley|

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 18, 2014 9:08:48 AM

Sex trafficking and molestation are criminal acts,when they occur. I was merely making a point that sexual deviance like pedophilia is a diagnostic term used by professional,not a criminal one (outside of civil commitment proceedings maybe?). Many would call those that commit statutory rape a pedophile, but those are near mutually exclusive. I'm not trying to promote the behavior, only point out that the danger of strangers molesting children is statistically overblown. The coach, priest, or acquaintance are much more suspect, but I really don't like this subject much so I'll drop it.

I think youre walking away from what I said with something other than what I said. I merely pointed out that there are inflated numbers on those 2 specific items.

Posted by: Riley | Mar 18, 2014 2:01:45 PM

Adamakis:

I don't know why I'm bothering talking to you but I do not like misquotes or more accurately, your lack of comprehension.

The whole point of the discussion is that REAL sex trafficking and REAL child molestation are severe crimes which should be punished severely. However, feminists, their government running dogs and LE (YOU?) do not use the terms accurately (especially in press releases) and thus are not only bogeymen but chicken littles. Is the sky falling where you live? I thought Daniel's statistics were telling and you and other commenters just blow them off!

How are those POS SO laws working out for you? It's OK to demonize 750,000 individuals for the sake of the children. Even if only 1% (7,500) have children that are also impacted by these laws, that is just too bad.

Posted by: albeed | Mar 18, 2014 2:18:32 PM

I disagree as well bill. we have almost 1,000,000 people on the Nazi sex offender registry.

80-95% are FIRST TIME OFFENDERS. who never go on to repeat their crime. so where did that 100% reoffence bullshit come from that was used in 2002 to justify it in front of the USSC to make it legal?

Hint! the govt stinking ass!

you know why I say that. every check done year after year after year after year but 100's of watchdog organizations as well as govt agencies find compliance by those being harassed by their own govt running 90-95% I'm sure if all 1,000,000 of them were out conducting new crimes EVERY KID IN AMERICAN would now be a vic.

it was a fraud against the people of the united states. which to date has cost the American tax payer 100's of billions of dollars. and wasted lifetimes of police man hours.

the very sad thing is that the govt knows it's all a lie. it's not rocket science. I'm sure the supercomputers under Langley could run the numbers in seconds.

take the total listed when the registry was created back in the early 1990's compare the names to day and see how many have a new sex crime conviction.

BINGO there's your roffence rate.

but the govt will never release that information.

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 19, 2014 2:38:31 AM

| “So no Bill pedophiles do not poses a "considerable danger". --Daniel|
| “I thought Daniel's statistics were telling and you and other commenters just blow them off!”—albeed |

----- From Daniel’s childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets :
“Other child homicides, such as those committed by acquaintances and strangers, and other causes of death, such as unintentional injuries, are not discussed here.”

----- From HHS report at www.unh.edu/ccrc: “the estimated number of victimized children in the 2012 fiscal year was 686,000 ... fatalities attributable to child abuse
and neglect increased from 1,580 in 2011 to 1,640 in 2012. .. The report tallied 62,936 children who were sexually abused in 2012”
........................................
“[B]oth common and under-reported … Researchers comparing results from 22 American studies suggest that 30% to 40% of girls and 13% of boys are sexually abused
during childhood. While study findings vary, it appears that anywhere from 10% to 50% of sexually abused children report their abuse.”
-- Dr. April Wilson & Madeline McClure

• www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20140219-dont-revictimize-sexually-abused-children.ece
consider support for: www.ithappenedtoalexa.org/‎

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 19, 2014 10:07:47 AM

those figures are all very nice adamakis but the devil is in the details. most of those 686,000 children who were victimized were victimized by their own family. just like the majority of child abductions are actually custodial abductions. the number of stranger abductions you know the ones 99% of the laws are targeted at run less than 100 a year way under 100 for that matter for the numbers I've seen over the years.

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 20, 2014 12:21:23 AM

albeed --

"I also agree with you that the reference to your wife as 'kapo' was grossly inappropriate, but as has been noted elsewhere, I am not the policeperson on this board and you know how to handle it."

I'm being completely sincere in telling you that I would appreciate suggestions on how to handle it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 20, 2014 10:30:31 AM

Bill:

It is you and not your wife who is commenting and she should not be referenced in anyway. You have a thick skin as do I and you handled it appropriately by bringing it the poster's attention.

All I am trying to do is know if you even acknowledge that other posters occassionally have a point of view which requires serious consideration. Even SC pulls a diamond out of you know where on occasion. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a liberal or defense attorney, but EVEN THEY make some valid points that should not be swept under the rug with platitudes.

Posted by: albeed | Mar 20, 2014 12:37:41 PM

albeed --

"All I am trying to do is know if you even acknowledge that other posters occassionally have a point of view which requires serious consideration."

Sure. That's one of the reasons I frequent this site, and one of the reasons I get into long debates with Doug (and a few other thoughtful people here). If this site had more tmm's and Michael R. Levine's, for example, it would be a great thing. But quality people are going to be repelled, not attracted, by vulgar remarks.

"Even SC pulls a diamond out of you know where on occasion."

Absolutely. He's actually quite bright. But sometimes he makes it hard to see this fact.

"Not everyone who disagrees with you is a liberal or defense attorney..."

For sure. Some of my best debate partners over the years have been Randy Barnett, Ilya Somin (of George Mason and Cato), and Conrad Black (http://www.fed-soc.org/publications/detail/is-american-justice-blind-or-blind-to-a-prosecutocracy-podcast).

"...but EVEN THEY make some valid points that should not be swept under the rug with platitudes."

I stay away from platitudes, unless some nimwit comment invites them. I believe I am one of the few commenters here who routinely cites and discusses Supreme Court cases, as I do on C&C as well.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 20, 2014 4:10:10 PM

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