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May 3, 2014

"Harsh Sentencing, Overstuffed Prisons — It's Time for Reform"

The title of this post is the headline given to this new Wall Street Journal commentary authored by Mortimer Zuckerman.  Here are excerpts:

Too many people are in prison who should not be there.  How many?  Most of them!  It is not that they are innocent of the offenses that put them there.  It is that they are in prison mainly because we have criminalized vast areas for nonviolent offenders and compounded that with a distorted sentencing system.  Criminal justice cries out for reform.  Congress and the Justice Department have begun to listen.

Since 1980 the U.S. federal prison population has grown by about 800% (to 216,787 this week, according to the Bureau of Prisons), while the country's population has increased only a third.  By comparison, under President Reagan, the total correctional-control rate (that includes everyone in prison or jail or on probation or parole) was less than half what it is today.  And here's another shocker: At the federal level, nonviolent offenders account for 90% of prisoners....

Federal prisons today house nearly 40% more inmates than they were designed for, many of them repeat offenders.  According to an April 2011 report from the Pew Center on the States, more than 40% of state ex-convicts return to their cells within three years of release, and in some states the recidivism rate approaches 60%.  The inflexible mandatory-sentencing rules inflict punishments that in many cases no reasonable judge would impose — and then the system turns out prisoners who are more harmful to society than when they went in.  For instance, a June 2013 paper by Anna Aizer of Brown University and Joseph J. Doyle Jr. of MIT found that putting a minor in juvenile detention reduced his likelihood of graduating from high school by 13% and increased his odds of being incarcerated as an adult by 23%.

There is now an awakening to the desperate situation we created (out of the best of motives).  It is manifest in Congress, which has a bipartisan bill before it to refocus federal resources on incarcerating violent offenders and move away from low-level ones. We also see the urge for reform in Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as in the states, which together have six times as many prisoners as the federal government....

The states are laboratories of reform led by vigorous governors—who realize that prisons cost the states more than $50 billion a year, up from about $9 billion in 1985.  Beginning in 2007, Texas, under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, rejected a proposal to build eight more prisons (and has saved an estimated $2 billion overall in projected corrections spending).  Instead, Texas is shifting nonviolent offenders from state prisons into alternative treatment, and budgeting for rehabilitative programs for addicts and mentally-ill prisoners.  A March 2013 Pew Charitable Trust report on state and consumer initiatives found that the rate of parole failure had dropped 39% since 2007 and Texas had its lowest crime rate since the 1960s.

More than a dozen other states — including Ohio, Georgia and South Carolina — are shortening or even eliminating prison time for the lowest-risk, nonviolent offenders. Instead of spending on more prisons, many states are increasing the number and compensation of parole caseworkers, who in the past have been almost perpetually overwhelmed.  Technology like ATM-style check-in stations and ankle bracelets with GPS helps.

But funding is required for the roughly 650,000 federal and state prisoners who are released every year into society.  You cannot drop them on the curb to fend for themselves, for two-thirds are rearrested within three years.  Enlisting family members to help once their relative leaves prison is one proven way to reduce recidivism.  Sentencing nonviolent offenders to a minimum-security prison or even to home confinement is not only cheaper but also eliminates the strain on separated families and reduces the contagion of crime.

We have to be smart and tough on criminal-justice spending, with the goal of getting the most public safety from the more-efficient expenditures of taxpayer dollars. The central idea must be to return significant criminal-justice discretionary dollars to local authorities. Reserve expensive prison beds for career criminals and violent felons, and give local jails the responsibility and funding to oversee low-level inmates involved with less-violent crimes.

The politics of all this are admittedly touchy. But we cannot remain in the mind-set created by the 1980s crime explosion that led to a narrowing of criminals rights and tougher penalties. Think of all the billions spent building prisons that could have been spent on roads, hospitals, schools and airports. If we do not support the initiatives of all three government branches to reform the system, the verdict could only be: Guilty of waste and injustice.

May 3, 2014 at 06:33 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I suggest criminalizing rent seeking, and decriminalizing crimes without harm.

http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/1594035229

In that book, all of us are committing three federal felonies day. If a prosecutor chose, we could al be prosecuted.

End all appalling, disgusting, self dealt immunities by lawyers infiltrating and now running the government, but incompetently. Their horrid practices qualify them for strict liability, but hold them to professional standards. They are greedy, power hungry, but stupid, ignorant, and in total failure across the board, no exception. Their self dealt immunities are unbearable and fully justify violence. Their idea of self regulation is not humanly possible, yet another lawyer fiction.

Defense lawyers will have to be physically terrorized to go after the prosecutor personally. Defense attorneys once worked in the prosecution office, are friends with prosecutors, and owe their jobs to the prosecutor, not to the client. The prosecutor is arbitrarily and wrongfully trying to destroy the life of the client, and nothing is done. They exercise their discretion solely for their own selfish purposes, and refuse to protect us from ultra-vicious gangs terrorizing our neighborhoods. These slow shuffling government make work lawyers move more slowly and are far lazier than postal workers. They take years to gather evidence against people committing mass murders to further organized crime interests. They allow 90% of serious crimes to go unanswered, do nothing against vicious predators, unless it is easy and safe for them.

They are at will employees. If they try to protect the public, they will be crushed by the anti-male, anti-white political hacks supervising them. I see no difference between Democratic or Republican appointees, so there is no recourse for the pubic.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 4, 2014 10:41:48 AM

Penal colonies may be the answer. Not prison but living in an island where they serve some time but in relative freedom while they work every day for the government churning out license plates and other items for public consumption. Manhattan would be a good island for this.

Posted by: Liberty1st | May 5, 2014 12:58:59 AM

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