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April 11, 2008

Senator Clinton making a campaign offensive on crime

A helpful reader pointed me to this exciting news from the presidential campaign trail:

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton is proposing to spend $4 billion a year on anti-crime measures, including programs meant to reduce the number of ex-convicts who return to prison.  The money also would help communities hire more police officers and "community-oriented prosecutors."

Under the New York senator's plan, to be detailed Friday in a speech in Philadelphia, states would compete for $1 billion in annual grants to combat recidivism. It would "promote tough but fair" changes to probation practices and to existing programs meant to steer non-violent drug offenders away from prison, her presidential campaign said in an outline provided early Friday. The goal is to make punishment more certain for those who violate their probation, while also enhancing efforts to help former drug users stay clean and thereby avoid prison, campaign aides said.

They said Clinton would pay for the $4 billion initiative with savings to be identified by a commission she will assign to "identify unnecessary and outdated corporate subsidies for elimination."  Groups that oppose deficit spending urge campaigns to be more specific in saying how they will pay for new programs. 

Clinton's plan would hire 100,000 new police officers "to address crime, through a modernized personnel grant program." It would spend $250 million a year on "community-oriented prosecutors."

Compared to earlier presidential campaigns, especially those in the 1970s, this year's contest has focused relatively scant attention on crime, with the Iraq war and economic woes dominating the debate. Clinton, noting that violent crime has begun to rise after several years of decline, will focus on the subject Friday as she competes with Sen. Barack Obama for votes in Pennsylvania's April 22 primary.

Here was the first-cut reaction of the thoughtful person who sent me a link to this story: "It appears that your earlier posts regarding crime emerging as a campaign issue have proved prescient.  This is probably a smart -- though cynical -- move on Clinton's part; based on anecdotal experiences growing up in the Pittsburgh area, I suspect that the crime issue will play well and possibly stem Obama's growing momentum in PA."

Here is my first-cut reaction: I am very, very excited that Senator Clinton is starting focus seriously on "anti-crime measures," but I am highly suspect that she is going to be able to effectively fund $4 billion initiative with savings from the elimination of "unnecessary and outdated corporate subsidies for elimination."  How about instead finding extra money by focusing instead on fixing unnecessary and outdated extreme sentencing terms, like those for non-violent crack offenders.  Oh wait, Senator Clinton was against crack retroactivity, so it seems that being tough on corporations, rather than kind to over-sentenced offenders, is the economic key to her anti-crime plans.

Some posts on crime and punishment and the 2008 campaign:

April 11, 2008 at 11:47 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 14, 2009 12:24:00 PM


Doug, "non-violent" crack offenders is sophistry, as it masks the reality that these people sold a powerful drug that wrecked communities. Maybe they deserve to get out; maybe they don't, but let's not sugarcoat what crack dealers did to our cities.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 11, 2008 12:05:47 PM

I wish I knew what non-lawyers meant by “sophistry.” They seem to refer to most legal arguments they don’t like as “sophistry.”

As it stands, “non-violent” offenders generally refers to people that were not convicted of crimes which included an element that involved physically committing some act of violence.

Of course it is true that many things indirectly harm our “cities.” I can think of a few things off the top of my head: 1) pollution; 2) non-lawyers; 3) public schools; 4) bad drivers; 5) poverty. However, criminal law generally punishes people for their volitional acts, not the eventual aggregate consequences of their acts and similarly-minded people.

Posted by: S.cotus | Apr 11, 2008 12:12:06 PM

Italy Makes It Hard For Jailbirds to Stay in Jail:
A Mass Pardon Triggers Wave of Bank Heists; Give Me 'Semi-Liberty'




Posted by: FG | Apr 11, 2008 12:26:55 PM

True enough, S.cotus, but the punishments are selected, legislatively, by the effect of the crime on the polity as a whole. The crack/powder distinction is a perfect example of that. My point, of course, is that "non-violent" is a mask for a less-savory and more descriptive moniker for these criminals, dope-pushers.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 11, 2008 1:13:15 PM


This article confuses a lot of concepts and is of little use. Most of it is just whiney prosecutors. They prove one thing: they are just as annoying in Italy as they are in the US. In Italy, of course, they can blame judges, whereas in the US they usually need to figure out a way to blame a jury which isn’t as politically popular.

The biggest on is its confusion between substantive and procedural rights. It may well be that in Italy, murdering a cheating spouse is a different crime than it is in the US. Frequently in the US, it IS a different crime (if someone is caught in the act and loses their cool). But, even assuming that “arguing” that a spouse was cheating requires a lower sentence, this is simply a political choice that the Italians made, and we need to respect that. (Or, would you rather have the Italians condemning us Americans for not sentencing people to jail time for insulting religions.)

The article also notes that there is a fair bit of prosecutorial misconduct in Italy, with prosecutors saying that “only sure form of punishment at their disposal is to have someone placed in pretrial custody.” Assuming that this is not a mistranslation (as it may well be), such a sentiment has no place in a modern Democracy. The prosecutors seem to think that pre-trial detention is a form of punishment that can be generally given without a trial.

The article also doesn’t explain that in the absence of jury trials, more searching review is provided to judges decisions. Again, this is a decision that the Italians made. Do you really want the Italians telling us how to run our system of appellate courts.

The article also seems to see something wrong with someone that is released pending trial bringing pastries to his mother. Oh no! I wonder if they were those cylindrical ones with the cream inside.

Posted by: S.cotus | Apr 11, 2008 1:16:19 PM

While some of them might have been selling, the new guidelines cover a larger class of people than just salespeople. But, don’t worry, it is pretty easy to spot a genuinely violent gent.

Now, as a practical matter, in many cases, the line between mere user and dealer is blurred. Unlike marijuana (where most people that use don’t sell), many crack users sold crack to support their habit – often receiving their “fix” on credit. These were not just young thugs, but older junkies, too. So, while to most reasonable people the jump between user and dealer would seem quite big, to them it seemed sort of normal.

Posted by: S.cotus | Apr 11, 2008 1:22:32 PM

Has a politician ever followed through on a "I will hire X-thousand new police officers!" campaign promise? Only really stupid law-abiding people (not smart people or criminals) would want more police officers, rather than better-trained police officers. Of course that is the largest voting block since felons can't vote and smart people are few and far between. Even so - politicians always say they'll make more police officers appear on the streets, yet they never do. Why does anyone give such promises any credence at all?

Posted by: bruce | Apr 11, 2008 2:14:35 PM

There are at least three types of nonviolent offenders 1) a first time offender (normally they would be placed on probation), 2) repeat offenders (a couple of prior incarcerations none for felonies) and 3) a habitual offender (three or more incarcerations for felonies). My impression is that the habitual nonviolent offenders generate fairly high costs for the CJ System.

Obviously habitual nonviolent offenders require supervision but it is not clear that incarceration is the appropriate level in all cases. OTOH incarceration is the appropriate level of supervision for a habitual violent offender.

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 11, 2008 3:15:08 PM

"punishments are selected, legislatively, by the effect of the crime on the polity as a whole. The crack/powder distinction is a perfect example of that."

Given that the Sentencing Commission has repeatedly demonstrated that there is little basis for treating crack & powder differently, you might want to come up with a better example.

Posted by: JDB | Apr 11, 2008 3:53:03 PM

JDB, note that I said "legislatively". Congress created the distinction in the 80s in a response to cities being turned into war zones.

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