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November 13, 2008

A criminal justice blueprint for the new Prez that I hope gets followed

I received recently an e-mail announcing a new publication from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, entitled "Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President."  This website explains this new document and its coverage, and it provides this link to ten chapters available for download.  One chapter of special interest for sentencing fans is this one authored by Dawn Johnsen titled "Department of Justice: Restoring Integrity and the Rule of Law."

This whole chapter encouraging changes within DOJ should be enjoyable reading for anyone troubled by how the Justice Department has operated in recent years.  And anyone eager for serious state and federal sentencing reform should be especially pleased by the last three pages of this chapter, which are devoted to "longer-term priorities."  Here are some lengthy excerpts from this astute and effective part of CAP's blueprint for criminal justice change:

The attorney general should launch a coordinated set of initiatives that tackle the most fundamental and intractable problems in the criminal justice systems, both federal and state.... Although crime is largely a state and local responsibility, federal leadership can be enormously influential beyond the federal system through assistance that fosters innovation, supports research, and shares information about “what works” in combating crime....

Incarceration in the United States is an issue crying out for DOJ attention.  After holding steady for most of the 20th century, the federal prison population increased 10-fold in the last 25 years. The United States at all levels of government incarcerates more of its population than any other nation in the world, both in terms of the incarceration rate and in absolute numbers....

The costs, both financial and social, are astronomical. DOJ should undertake affirmative efforts to decrease prison populations without endangering public safety.  Again, states can provide useful models for each other and for the federal government. In response especially to budget crises, some states have successfully reduced incarceration rates without increasing crime. DOJ should study, disseminate, and implement best practices, which include increased and improved use of drug courts and treatment alternatives to incarceration....

DOJ should document the condition of indigent defense representation systems in the states, compile existing national and local standards for indigent defense systems and defense counsel, and bring stakeholders — judges, defenders, and prosecutors — together to devise solutions to the problem.  Beyond this, DOJ should advocate for federal funding for state indigent defense systems analogous to funding for state prosecutorial functions.... 

DOJ should strive to remedy the terribly disparate racial impact of current criminal law enforcement efforts. Under both the federal and state systems, African Americans suffer gravely disproportionate treatment at every stage — stops, arrest, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing. The causes and solutions are complex. The consequences, however, are devastating, in terms of shockingly disparate rates of imprisonment, which translate into political disenfranchisement and exclusion from student loans, jobs, and other life opportunities....

The solutions typically should not be race based, but should address the harms of problems such as ever-lengthening prison terms and the failures of the war on drugs.  Yet the gross disparate impacts on African Americans, and the perpetuation of the historic harms of discrimination, provide a special moral imperative for concerted attention to problems that harm us as a nation.

In addition, DOJ should pay special attention to how our criminal justice policies harm our nation’s youth, diminishing forever their life opportunities.  Most obvious are extremely lengthy prison sentences and even life without parole imposed for crimes committed by juveniles. Another recent such trend is to put children convicted of sex offenses on public sex offender registries, in some cases for the rest of their lives, which in turn may be used to limit where they may live or work....

Some progress in resolving these and other fundamental criminal justice problems can be made in the first months of the new administration — and the effort certainly should begin then.  But real change will take far longer.  Criminal justice reform should remain a priority throughout the next administration, with the goal of a more just and humane criminal justice system that better protects the public.

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November 13, 2008 at 08:23 AM | Permalink


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As the Republicans still have some authority, any major changes to the DOJ will be fought hard and there will always be the fear that Democrats are soft on crime. What Bush 1 did to Dukakis still lingers in the minds of the Democratic party, and odds are they won't want to rock the boat too much in the first year or so in order to continue their large majority.

Posted by: JT | Nov 13, 2008 9:48:02 AM

Q: What area in our society is determined on doing the same thing and expecting the a different result?

A: American jurisprudence

Posted by: | Nov 13, 2008 9:51:08 AM

I think it's interesting that the Democrats are taking a page from the Ronald Reagan playbook and looking to "Law & Order" as a slogan to call their own.

Looking at this purely as a political strategm, it's rather clever.

Posted by: Aman | Nov 13, 2008 12:57:07 PM

Criminal incarceration is expensive. California is finding out how expensive it is to provide medical care. The lesson of Andersonville in the Civil War is that a state or government has not right to lock up war prisoners if it can not feed them. Inmates that are incarcerated for crimes still have the right to medical care. If it costs Republican Governors too much to incarcerate, they will have second thoughts about sending petty criminals to their institutions of higher learning. The Democrats need to address this at the federal level and contract the ridiculous number of federal prosecutions--thus stemming the flow of incoming inmates and alleviating the cost and the injustice over time. As to incarcerated convicted federal persons, the Democrats need to appoint a bi-partisan board (exclude Dukakis) to review the entire system of parole and no parole.

Posted by: mpb | Nov 14, 2008 1:48:06 PM

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