October 23, 2015
Perspectives on new law enforcement sentencing reform group and Prez Obama's engagement
In addition to the Senate's work on SRCA 2015 (basics here and here), the other big sentencing reform news this week has been the emergence of the new group Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration (basics here), and President Obama's re-engagement with criminal justice reform matters (basics here). These developments connected on Thursday through events at the White House involving The Marshall Project and well-reported in these pieces:
- Top Cops and Prosecutors Form Alliance to Battle Crime and Prison Crowding
- Obama Defends Black Lives Matter Movement in Talk With The Marshall Project
Excitingly, among the persons involved in all this important activity is FOB (Friend Of Blog) Mark Osler, and Mark late yesterday provided this exclusive insider view for reporting here:
I am one of the 130 members of a new group Doug recently wrote about, the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration. That said, I suspect that I am (once again) the admission department's mistake, as nearly all of the others involved were or are now the head of some sort of law enforcement agency. The group includes the current police chiefs for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Washington DC, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Miami, Fresno, and Richmond (both Virginia and California) along with dozens of other current and former police chiefs, District and U.S. Attorneys, and sheriffs. Each has signed on to a common mission: reducing incarceration while continuing to reduce crime.
At its core, this represents a rejection of what many assume: That more incarceration necessarily and uniformly operates to keep us safe. Those on the front lines of crime-fighting in America's cities now are beginning to reject that idea and move towards more creative and effective techniques such as community policing and mental health treatment.
The public launch of the group this week included discussion sessions and a meeting with President Obama at the White House, coordinated by the Brennan Center.
Over the course of the two days, I was struck by the general unanimity of the group on the core issues of incarceration and crime control. Certainly, there is a recognition among the members that different cities present distinct challenges, and that there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution, yet there is broad agreement that this is the moment to move away from incarceration as a primary metric for success. A man in jail does not always represent a problem solved.
In his remarks, President Obama was focused and surprisingly informed on the state of criminal law at both the state and federal level. It's no secret that these issues have increasingly captured his attention, and he seemed to relish talking about it with an audience partly composed of police chiefs in uniform. Much of what he said was of specific interest to this group; for example, he noted the importance of changing the incentives for prosecutors away from simply obtaining high sentences, and (in response to a question) noted that going forward the collection and use of data is going to only become more important. He also argued that long terms of incarceration offer diminishing returns, even with violent offenders.
He challenged the audience on racial issues, too, saying that the Black Lives Matter movement raises "a legitimate issue that we have to address."
What happens next for this group will be crucial. Its very existence, though, represents a shifting of tectonic plates on the landscape of criminal justice.
October 23, 2015 at 09:19 AM | Permalink
Doug, thanks for this post and the one Wednesday. I am currently drafting an amendment to a postconviction motion, including a copy of the press release and statement of principles of the group. The motion is an Eighth Amendment as applied challenge to a twenty year sentence for possessing .08 grams of cocaine and possessing with intent to sell about 185 grams of marijuana.
The press release is supporting my argument in the motion with respect to "evolving standards of decency.
Posted by: bruce cunningham | Oct 23, 2015 10:10:10 AM