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April 26, 2008

"Fixing our criminal sentencing system"

The title of this post is the title of this op-ed from the Boston Globe today.  Here are some excerpts:

A number of news stories this spring have shown us that the criminal sentencing system is out of line - both in Massachusetts and in the nation as a whole. The United States has not just the highest rate of incarceration in the world, but also one-fourth of all of the prisoners in the world.

What has led us to this? And what is it about our priorities that has us spending more on incarceration than higher education?...

When you look across the vast spectrum of crimes committed each year, so many of them can be traced back to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. This is no secret, nor is the fact that more than 20 years of get-tough policies have not made a difference in drug-related crimes....

So what can we do this year, while the budget and the laws are still being written, and before our legislators recess for a season of campaigning?

This is a simple, cost-saving, and effective wish list:

  • Eliminate mandatory minimums for drug crimes to allow for parole eligibility.
  • Ensure meaningful post-incarceration supervision through parole or probation.
  • Resist calls for new mandatory minimum sentences that tie the hands of prosecutors, judges, and corrections officials.
  • Support policies that provide and promote drug treatment instead of incarceration.
  • Fully fund prison programs for treatment of mental illness, substance abuse, and training.

None of these ideas suggest that we should be soft on crime.  Rather, they represent measures that are smart on crime in ways that Massachusetts can afford — and will be more effective in reducing future crime than the status quo.

April 26, 2008 at 10:12 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 14, 2009 12:28:34 PM


David White is the president of the Massachusetts Bar Association and I think the president of the bar association in every state could write a similar editorial and I hope they do.

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 26, 2008 10:32:51 AM

This is really just a matter of inevitability at this point. We can no longer afford it, and we're realizing it.

Posted by: Alec | Apr 26, 2008 7:58:43 PM

We can no longer afford it, and we're realizing it.

I agree 100% but the problem is the idiots in Washinton dont realize it. They still use fear tatics and crime as a way to get elected. That is the problem. Watch some people will try and put the fear of god into women and the elderly telling them they are not safe. Look at the way this presidents people reacted to the crack guidlines "they acted like they were on crack"

Posted by: | Apr 26, 2008 8:28:46 PM

To 8:28:46:

You are absolutely right, of course. Conservative politicians pushed for aggressive criminal laws and sentencing, and moderates and liberals followed along. This also resulted in aggressive initiatives in states like California.

The problem is that legislators are now facing some very tough choices, choices that they did not have to face before. Because now it is draconian sentencing or quality education, or other spending priorities. The fact is that the country was intoxicated by the (often racialized) fear tactics of the drug warriors for decades and we went overboard. And not just in sentencing, but with changes to substantive law and, I believe, changes in how the courts interpreted constitutional law (hint: activities that create reasonable suspicion that one is on drugs or is a drug dealer). That created a vicious circle, and brought us to where we are today. I think we are doing the same with sex offenders, although that picture is complicated by the presence of actual (and very sympathetic) victims.

But with the numbers being what they are, there is only one thing that matters in the end: Our criminal justice system is a house of cards.

Posted by: Alec | Apr 27, 2008 6:00:58 PM

I just don't get our priorities as a country. The world is falling apart gas is out of control and food is following the same path. Yet we spend millions of dollars to look at steroids in baseball. All these guys do is hit and catch a ball who cares it means nothing in everyday life. They are not leading a country it is entertainment. I would much rather see congress try and find out why gas is going to $4.50 a gallon. Spend money on that.

White collar crime is the same thing a person going through the process for a white collar crime in most cases they are done life is over destroyed be it brought on by themselves paying back. Their family is destroyed there life is basically over yet the DOJ does not feel that is enough they have to stack years and years on top of the rest. Years and years that cost taxpayers money. Money that could be spent on education etc.

I wish there was a way I could impact some change just don't know how. Doug maybe you can tell me how I can have an impact a way to force change.

Posted by: | Apr 27, 2008 8:54:55 PM

I almost never hear no one speak of giving people second chances with Pardons or expungements for non violent crimes. The Justice system has created a huge population of Felons and no one is asking or demanding a way to let them back into society. We cannot and should not classify all felons the same.

Posted by: Disenfranchised | Apr 29, 2008 11:07:47 AM

"drug crimes" This term is thrown around with no definition. Do you mean possession or a person with a meth lab in their garage, and a closet full of firearms and 20K in cash?

Posted by: lawdevil | Apr 29, 2008 11:17:06 AM

In some of the data tables that I use the terms drug possession, drug trafficking and other drug charges are used which is an improvement over "drug crimes". However drug trafficking can be wholesale, retail and resale by the end-user and they have to prove there was a transaction and the determine the severity of the charge by the amount of drugs sold. Wholesale drug trafficking also involves transportation of the drug and since there was no transaction all that can be proved is possession and the severity of the charge also depends on the amount.

I think term drug trafficking could be clarified if it was specified that if was a wholesale, retail transaction or the resale of a small amount by the end-user. For drug possession it would clarify things if the amount was specified as large, medium or small.

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 29, 2008 1:36:46 PM


When I use the term I include that, yes, because the entire drug war was bad policy to begin with and got us into this mess. The creation of such a large illegal market, along with the "tax" of (very long) imprisonment in a country that does not regulate guns, guarantees the result.

Posted by: Alec | Apr 29, 2008 1:40:41 PM

Hi. Nice to see an honest attempt at presenting some well researched information. Had a nice time reading. Keep up the good work,

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