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October 4, 2007

More on the JEC hearing on mass incarceration

As noted previously here, this morning Congress's Joint Economic Committee (JEC) is holding a hearing entitled, "Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?".  It appears as though Senator Jim Webb put this program together; his webpage now has interesting links to "Facts about the United States prison system" and "Floor Charts and Graphs" that spotlight, inter alia, that the "composition of prison admissions has ... shifted toward less serious offenses, characterized by parole violations and drug offenses."

In addition, now available on this page are links to the written statements or testimony of the following participants in this JEC hearing:

I find it extraordinarily encouraging that the Senate is having a hearing to discuss how the country can andshould be smarter on crime rather than just always seeking to be tougher on crime.  (Relatedly, it is disappointing that this JEC hearing has so far gotten very little press attention.)

Some recent related posts:

October 4, 2007 at 11:02 AM | Permalink


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The viewpoint that getting tough on crime was a substantial factor in the crime drop and that we ought not rush headlong into repeating the mistakes of the 1960s is conspicuously absent from the panel.

It is all well and good to proceed carefully with a reexamination of sentencing policies to see where incarceration can be reduced without endangering public safety, but it seems that "smart on crime" has become a euphemism for across-the-board reductions that are anything but smart.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 4, 2007 12:21:45 PM

Kent: I'm interested in your opinion about the cyclic nature of crime (particularly violent crime) on a 40 (or depending on the study, sometimes longer) cycle. There is evidence that the cycle has little to do with any policing, no?

Posted by: dweedle | Oct 4, 2007 12:27:01 PM

There is evidence that other factors are also involved. Indeed, I don't think any thoughtful people doubt it. However, even the anti-punishment side(or at least the serious scholars among them) have to concede that the increases in sentencing were a substantial factor in the crime drop. Even if their estimate of 25% is correct [other estimates are higher], that is a lot of people not robbed, not raped, and not murdered who otherwise would have been.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 4, 2007 1:13:18 PM

The "anti-punishment side"? Who the hell is that? That's as absurd as saying the judicial branch isn't a valid part of the system of checks and balances because judges aren't elected. They are not elected precisely because the pendulum swings and they are supposed to oppose the popular politics of the day when it conflicts with the Constitution.

You may be correct in stating that "increases in sentencing were a substantial factor in the crime drop," though how substantial is debatable, but also note that you list only violent crimes. Can you say, for example, that they won the war on drugs or even won some decisive battles? If anything the opposite is true and like in the Prohibition Era, they increased the crime rate.

John Stinneford's article, "The Original Meaning of 'Unusual': The Eighth Amendment as a Bar to Cruel Innovation" might be the best solution to prevent the pendulum from swinging so wildly. Right now the political climate seems to indicate there is a revolution against the overzealous grab of power by both the legislative and executive branches at the expense of the judicial branch, similar to what happened in the past on occasion, which brought about the Bill of Rights. Hopefully Justice Scalia will reply to the article and some stability will eventually result.

The "anti-punishment side." Does anyone outside of the choir take such rhetoric seriously?

Posted by: George | Oct 4, 2007 4:09:32 PM

But, taking the specific case of New York City, isn't true that nobody is really certain what caused the unprecedented drop? How do you arrive at 25%? I'm curious.

The interesting thing to me is I don't see the public's paranoia regarding crime dying out a bit, if anything the latest uptick has only made people more interested in get-tough solutions, not less. For instance, even after the Adam Walsh Act Congress is still planning more punishment reforms in this term. Look at what happened in Connecticut, after the home invasion at the doctor's house, they changed their entire parole scheme. Could it be that, besides a few Federal judges, there isn't the support out there this time for reforms?

Posted by: dweedle | Oct 4, 2007 4:10:31 PM

In all fairness, it might be more accurate to say "anti-meaningful and fair punishment," as we saw this Tuesday there are more than a few otherwise reasonable seeming people that think one drug dealer ought to get time and another that used his drug proceeds to go to school ought to be given a kiss on the lips and congratulations... maybe even a nice bouquet of flowers too for spending his illicit drug proceeds on tuition instead of a fast car. Bravo!

Posted by: dweedle | Oct 4, 2007 4:31:12 PM

dweedle, are you thinking of Libby or do you still have your mind wrapped around the Craig thread?

Posted by: George | Oct 4, 2007 5:46:37 PM

Two Libbys don't make a right, George.

Posted by: dweedle | Oct 4, 2007 6:17:00 PM

Prohibition always finances criminal gangs. Think of it as a price support mechanism for criminals. Milton Friedman called it socialism for criminals.

And yet the right is the staunchest supporter of this kind of socialism.

I guess drugs make some people stupid. Who knew you didn't even have to take them to get that effect?


I'm an aerospace engineer.

Posted by: M. Simon | Oct 8, 2007 1:58:00 AM

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