« Prez Obama produces lengthy Harvard Law Review article titled "The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform" | Main | Marijuana reform and clemency conversations at the state and federal level »

January 5, 2017

Lamenting big criminal justice problems in the little state of Delaware

This new local commentary from Delaware authored by Jack Guerin, headlined "A perfect storm of failure in criminal justice," tell a pretty disconcerting story about the First State. Here is how the commentary gets started:

By every conceivable measure, Delaware’s criminal justice system is a failure. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “Delaware has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country.”  The article found that our state ranked third highest among all states in robberies, and that the rate of crime in Wilmington is “one of the highest of any large city in the country.”

In November, the Delaware Criminal Justice Council issued its annual report on recidivism in Delaware, finding that “by the end of three years, about 76 percent of offenders in each cohort had been rearrested for a serious offense.”  Most recidivism events occurred in the first two years after release.

In December, the Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a report ranking Delaware’s prison system fifth highest among states in overcrowding at 154.7 percent of design capacity.  A recent report by the Liman Program at the Yale Law School ranked Delaware (tied with Tennessee) as having the third highest percentage of prisoners in solitary confinement in the nation.

With high rates of crime, incarceration, recidivism, overcrowding and solitary confinement, Delaware represents the perfect storm of failure for the “tough on crime” policies initiated more than 40 years ago. Our enormous investment in punitive incarceration is not making us safer.

January 5, 2017 at 10:34 AM | Permalink


It's worth keeping in mind Delaware has no local jails. Everyone with a misdemeanor or felony, whether charged or convicted, is in the prison system (those who haven't been convicted are supposed to be segregated from those convicted, though) and, yes, it's terribly overcrowded.

That being said, I wonder what the crime rates would be if you ignored Wilmington.

Posted by: Erik M | Jan 5, 2017 11:18:39 AM

One should also point out that Wilmington is in close proximity to Philadelphia and gets a lot of overflow problems from that city. In other words, DE and Wilmington in particular is in a rather peculiar position and I don't see it as an example of anything.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 5, 2017 12:07:12 PM

Great comments that provide a great reminder that all sentencing and crime and punishment stories are fundamentally local stories in many important ways.

Posted by: Doug B | Jan 5, 2017 12:46:45 PM

If Philadelphia has spillover effects to another state, the "local" effect here has a bit of nuance.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 5, 2017 12:55:15 PM

I would also say that being well over design capacity doesn't say anything about whether policies are tough or not. (I would actually say the re-arrest rates point in the opposite direction, both in that folks are being released who evidently should not be and those that are released are not given enough incentive to avoid returning).

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jan 5, 2017 1:42:41 PM

I am offended by the racist code phrase, "crime rate."

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 5, 2017 9:23:49 PM

Joe. Your "Philadelphia" is a racist code word. Everyone understands what you mean.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 5, 2017 9:25:37 PM

Soronel Haetir, Truth in Sentencing laws actually can have a problem of some people being released too early (in addition to people being released too late). Discretionary Parole allowed for an individualized determination based on how you've been since being arrested. Regarding overcrowding and recidivism rates, I think the argument is that significant punishments aren't a deterrent (this is actually supported by the evidence quite commonly - the threat of punishment is much bigger than the amount of punishment and the number of years we give often do little to change the equation to add greater deterrence).

I do want to go back to the no local jail thing. One big problem is institutionalizing people - turning one time criminals into career criminals. Keeping everyone together - whether it's a long-term sentence or a short-term one causes adverse consequences. Likewise, limiting opportunities for rehabilitation programs and programs involving techniques to adapt to society upon release is counterproductive in preventing recidivism.

Posted by: Erik M | Jan 6, 2017 2:40:11 PM

I am not especially interested in deterrence, I believe incapacitation is the more worthy goal of the legal system. And that is a major part of why I believe execution should be the default outcome for such a wide range of offenses, if you execute the perpetrator of a $200 theft they are simply not going to repeat the act later.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jan 6, 2017 3:49:59 PM

SH. All criminals are generalists and not specialists. All drug dealers will violently defend territory. All non-violent criminals have low morals and half have antisocial personality disorder. That disorder makes them devoid of fear, of empathy, and of considering the future.

Criminals each commit hundreds of crimes a year, at a massive direct cost to victims and to tax payers, and likely bigger indirect costs to the value of real estate within blocks of each crime. We are not estimating the value destroyed by the criminal, of living in fear for the general public.

Only 1 in 10 serious crimes is ever prosecuted. That fraction could be 1 in a 1000 if one counts modern crimes of hacking and identity theft.

Kill a criminal at the youngest age possible, and you have made up to $100 million, each. That money will be going to victims, taxpayers, and property owners. Save, protect, privilege, empower and encourage the criminal, and that money is going to the government and to the lawyer profession.

I have to commend you as a rare reader of this blog who is an average, ordinary person, a potential beneficiary of the eradication of criminals. Almost all other readers here are on the side of rent seeking and big government. Your thinking is that of the 80%. Theirs is of the 20% of tax sucking, government dependent parasites. You will have to go through them to get to the criminals they are protecting. I would have no hesitation doing so, once the 80% decide to fight back. I can draft the constitutional amendments needed to stop them. I can draft the statutes criminalizing rent seeking, with its own immediate death penalty, as a mandatory sentencing guideline.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 6, 2017 7:27:20 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB