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March 26, 2009

Senator Jim Webb takes his concerns about prison nation to the next level

Senator Jim Webb, who long ago won my heart by showing a serious concern for the problems of crime and punishment in the United States, has now taken his work on these issues to the next level.  Specifically, as explained in this local article, Senator Webb "wants a 'top-to-bottom review' by Congress of the nation's criminal-justice system with an eye toward reducing the growing prison population."  Here is more from this press report:

With the support of the White House and some Senate Republicans, Webb is proposing a blue-ribbon commission spend 1½ years looking at law-and-order issues. Webb's office says the panel should take a sweeping look at the way the nation controls crime, metes out punishment and returns felons to society.

A background document says of the commission: "Its task will be to propose concrete, wide-ranging reforms to responsibly reduce the overall incarceration rate; improve federal and local responses to international and domestic gang violence; restructure our approach to drug policy; improve the treatment of mental illness; improve prison administration, and establish a system for reintegrating ex-offenders."

Webb has been speaking out on the prison issue for over a year, warning of the economic and social consequences of housing a growing population of criminals....  According to Webb's office, President Barack Obama supports the investigation; so, too, does Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican, former Judiciary Committee chairman and ex-federal prosecutor, who is facing a tough re-election campaign. Other supporters include the current Judiciary panel head, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

Senator Webb's website provides lots more details here on the Senator's introduction today of "The National Criminal Justice Act of 2009," such as this intro:

The National Criminal Justice Act of 2009 that I introduced in the Senate on March 26, 2009 will create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make concrete recommendations about how we can reform the process. 

And, along with lots of links and other materials, Senator Webb's website has  a link to this forthcoming article in this week's Parade magazine, titled "Why We Must Fix Our Prisons."

March 26, 2009 at 06:52 PM | Permalink


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While I wont claim to know the whole of Senator Webb's policies it seems to me that if we want less people in jail the right place to start is not with yet another commission but with Congress itself. Too many laws regulating too much behavior. That's the heart of the problem.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 26, 2009 7:19:52 PM

Let's execute some more prisoners.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 26, 2009 7:47:28 PM

I agree with Federalist, but why stop with prisoners? Taking out about 1/4th of all the conservative nut jobs out there would save money and strengthen the gene pool.

Posted by: MarkM | Mar 27, 2009 3:27:00 AM

Mark: It's been done. The Left executed 100 million people. It still failed to persuade anyone. The facts abandoned the Left 100 years ago. Personal attacks are all that remain for the Left.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 27, 2009 7:06:39 AM

As anyone who has ever chosen a jury from a panel of "ordinary" citizens can attest, there are some people out there walking among us who are just plain nuts. Pursuant to this observation, MarkM's thesis is provided further corroboration and support by the posters in this comment section.

Posted by: Mark | Mar 27, 2009 8:55:16 AM

Love Jim Webb. I am particularly encouraged and hopeful to see us talk more about reentry, rehabilitation, and support.

There will always be significant recidivism, but we should be making much more of an effort to identify those who are actually interested in changing their lives after a criminal conviction, to give them support in making productive use of their time locked up, and to help them transition back to the free world upon release. These efforts are so underfunded that their prioritization could make a real difference.

Posted by: Observer | Mar 27, 2009 10:50:51 AM

Surprise, surprise, surprise, another Democrat hears the siren song of being nice to criminals . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Mar 27, 2009 2:43:42 PM

Our Founding Fathers knew that if you treat a man like a dog, you shouldn't be surprised when he acts like one. Why can't those who purport to prefer "conservatism" or "originalism" or other such sundry euphemism for "good 'ole days" nonsense comprehend the common sense that our Founding Fathers supported?

Posted by: Mark | Mar 27, 2009 11:23:09 PM

I cannot believe that Senator Webb could even attempt to campare the US prison sentence to that of Japans. Our prison population increases each year becuase we take excellent care of our prisoners. In other countries a 5 yr prison sentence is a death sentence. American can go to prison and recieve all the health care they could ever want. Exercise and plenty of rest all centered around a nutritious diet. That is why our prisons are overcrowded. Prison is not punishment in our country. It is a training ground for our prisoners.

Posted by: Dave | Mar 29, 2009 10:09:16 AM

Thank you, Sen. Webb for having the courage to address this huge problem which has grown unchecked for so many years. These drug policies have ruined many lives. If you have not the knowledge or money to have your past offenses expunged you must live with this stigma. Not only is it totally unchristian, but very stupid and counterproductive. I've had to recuse myself from juries because of mandatory sentencing. My son is a defense attorney and it makes him sick. Most politicians will not touch this because of the "tough on crime" blarney. I am 77 years old and have seen this injustice grow through the years. Thanks again Sen. Webb, let's have true Justice and not political rants!

Posted by: Grace McLeod | Mar 29, 2009 8:05:21 PM

Another dumb ass Democrat politician who wants to form a commitee at the public's expense. What other country has a group of people who find killing another person a badge of courage and if it is a law enforcement officer a bigger plus. The poor victim of our society. Then we have the no snitching mentality. You can't trust the man no matter how many people are killed. Tell that to all the police that have died in the past 18 months in Philadelphia. All the fine poor ex-prisoners which were put back on the street. Our prison system is a joke. Incarcerated yes, punished no!
A place where it is no big deal to go back to. They are in prison for the not nice thing they did, not for a paid holiday/vacation. How many time has Senator Webb been directly affected by a violent crime? If he is protecting the criminal then whoo the hell is protecting the law abiding citizen? Personally I think Japan has it right. Them maybe you would prefer not to go to prison.

Posted by: Henry | Mar 29, 2009 8:17:19 PM

Let's just say that the judisicial system needs a lot of work. We've got drug addicts that are getting more time than child molestors and murderers. What's wrong with this picture? Rehabilitation - tough boot camp for certain age groups - reward the prisoners that are actually trying to better themselves such as getting an education, paticipating in drug programs. I'm anxious to see what Senator Webb WILL come up with. GRIEVING GIRLFRIEND FOR THE NEXT 26 YEARS.

Posted by: Wonda Thurston | Mar 29, 2009 11:07:55 PM

We have a bad issue out here in St. Charles regarding the system is not fair by no means the judges some of them are bias and I feel you can't be that way and be in the judicial system I have a daughter whom is 20 and is serving 18 years for just making a phone call when she was forced to do I have tried to contact congress and may district and no one cares. I know that it may not be nothing but I am a registered Democrat voter and I feel like the system only works for people whom have alot of money or whom can get a attorney in our situation we could not afford one. Sometimes I feel why am I a registered voter when it seems like the system is failing in some area's. Thank you ,


Posted by: Donna Lukasek | Mar 30, 2009 10:11:37 AM

I am an ordinary citizen who is concerned about the lack of logic being show by all parties at all levels in our government. Our judicial system is a major cause of the prison problem. It is amazingly inconsistent in both conviction and punishment. Conviction depends more on the amount of money the accused can spend of defense than on the facts of the case. We have all seen a rich man get away with murder when the facts obviously called for conviction. The punishment depends far more on who the judge is than what the crime was. Our criminals know when they charged that conviction and punishment are a gamble. Most criminals are gamblers to start with so they think they have a shot at winning. If we don't develop, and follow, consistent punishments we will never solve the problem. I know it's tough for the executive arm of our government to understand, but illogical operations cannot be made better by throwing money at the problem. It isn't just the judicial system that needs re-evaluation, we need to review all arms of our government in terms contemporary resources. There was a reason for the electoral college when our country was founded, now it allows the second choice of our citizens to become the winner. Is this democracy? Obviously not! Corporate America does not allow the elderly to determine the direction of the company. The more decrepit a senator or a judge is the more power he/she has. Lets bring American government into the 21st centaury

Posted by: Sylvia Anderson | Mar 30, 2009 8:21:58 PM

Right now a friend is spending 6 months under house arrest, lost his job, has to pay 80.00 a month for system shich keeps him in house, drug test every week, never used drugs, 1500 down payment for system installed in the house, all for driving without a license yet we issue them to illegals in Md. He tried to get a license but because he had a traffic violation in Indiana he could not. As for prisnors check out our prision, they are even going to fix them kosher meals, plus they get a college ed free plus a lot of other freebies that we have to pay for.

Posted by: charlotte shirley | Mar 30, 2009 9:22:24 PM

The most profound defect in the criminal justice system in this country, for which most attorneys and politicians do not know, is that there is a law under the federal sentencing system that allows a court to send a citizen to prison even though he/she was aquitted and found not guilty by the jury. Most people laugh and say you're crazy. My office has three such cases in the past two years. It is the most bizarre practice and is akin to that of a third world nation. This issue trumps all other problems in the criminal justice system. Imagine, getting found not guilty and being sent to federal prison anyway. I will be contacting Senator Webb's office today with these case file examples and the urgent need to fix this problem over any other in the criminal justice system.

Posted by: Ken B. | Apr 2, 2009 9:19:02 AM

Dave, you have my sympathies. If five years in prison sounds like a vacation to you, you've had a hard life.

Sylvia, watching crime movies isn't the best way to learn how the system actually works. The list of rich, powerful, connected people who've been squashed in recent years by the American Conviction Machine is long and growing daily. Martha Stewart ring a bell?

Fact is, the system's been rigged for quick, easy convictions. And, Sylvia, most citizens accused of crimes, including the rich, don't "get off" at trial because most citizens accused of crimes never see the inside of a courtroom.

Plea agreements leveraged by draconian mandatory minimum sentences are the new trials. Here's how it works: Sign a deal and do maybe six months or a year or two. Force us to actually prove a case in court and you're risking 30 years in prison.

And oh yeah, if you choose the trial route you'll need to come up with a lot of money for a lawyer (typically hundreds of thousands of dollars). And guess what, the get-tough laws they've been churning out the past 40 years make it next to impossible to win acquittal.

To the authoritarians who post here I heartily recommend John Dean's book, Conservatives Without Conscience. It might help you understand why you are the way you are.

Posted by: John K | Jun 11, 2009 11:00:24 AM

"Incarceration over Education: The New Racket."

Recently, a panel of federal judges ordered California to cut its prison population by more than 40,000 inmates because the medical facilities are so horrific that it violates the inmates' constitutional rights.

In PA, Graterford's Correction Facility is so overcrowded; some of the inmates are being transferred to serve their time in New Jersey's penal system. Overcrowded prisons are not phenomena, but a steady increase of new inmates and repeat offenders in America is cause for great concern.

In 2009 more than 82 percent of males that are incarcerated in the U.S. are African Americans ages ranging from as young as 16 years old - 36 years old. Furthermore, the rate of incarceration for African Americans is significantly higher than for the overall prison population of Latinos, Native Americans, Caucasians, Asians, and Mexicans. In fact, in 2008, 1 out of every 9 African American men between the ages of 20 years old and 34 years old was behind bars. For African American women ages 18 years old to 39 years old, 1 in 100 is imprisoned, compared with 1 in 355 Latinas, Native Americans, Asians, and Caucasian women of the same age.

What is hauntingly disturbing is that the United States is the world leader in the rate at which it convicts and places its citizens behind bars. An analysis using state-by-state data concluded a record 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or imprisoned at the start of 2008. In essence, 1 out of every 96 adult Americans is incarcerated. The aforementioned data estimates that those numbers will double by 2010.

According to the Pew Center, a record increase in financial support for incarceration, with the 50 U.S. states spending more than $49 billion on prisons in 2007, five times more than the $11 billion spent more than 20 years ago. California alone will spend more than $7 billion on 9, 000 new correction facilities for 2009-2010, although California has one of the biggest financial deficits in America.

In 2008, the rate of increase for prison costs last year was six times higher than the rate of increase for public schools and higher education spending. There is a higher premium on promoting prison life rather than education.

In 2009 with many of America's states feeling the effect of the recession and budget shortfalls, the increased spending for prisons and jails has led to a disproportionate decrease in spending on education and other social needs that would aid in preventing the increase of prison rolls.

Let's be candid friends, many of us pressured legislators for stringent, mandatory sentencing laws in our efforts in "obliterating crime from our society.” And in our zealot ideology contributed to the escalating and volatile prison population that has now taken on a life of its own. For example, even the states where crime is evaporating--the numbers of imprisoned continue to grow.

Conversely, we are now faced with the final chapter in the demise of a first-rate public school education in America, the apathetic and calculating elimination of social services and after programs, the stringent and inflexible criminal laws, police brutality, and corruption are just some of the seeds that have been planted to give birth to the unnatural creation and rise of prisons and its increasing population.

What a racket!

Best Regards,

Anthony P. Johnson, Ph.D. Candidate, Author
Founder & CEO
Dream Field Academy
647 East Raymond Street
Philadelphia, PA 19120
Cell: 215-715-0355

Posted by: Anthony P. Johnson | Aug 11, 2009 2:08:32 PM

This is all very interesting read but who is paying attention enough to get "Justice System Reform" action now. Being a third party to an insider, now is not soon enough. ...............m

Posted by: max | Nov 9, 2009 4:28:09 PM

I hope Mr Webb's research also reaches a witch hunt America is having with another group of people being sentenced with draconian methods. The label sex offender is a very broad term. My son and thousands more were senteneced in the last few years for child porn on their computers. Most of these people have never considered hurting a child or even had an interest in children for that purpose. In my son's case, after his divorce he turned to on-line porn during a depression and became as addicted to it as a person who is on drugs. The child porn was just a part of some of the downloads. He had never had more than a traffic ticket and was a college professor/tax payer. He took a plea, admitting only possession and is serving 6 years in prison. He would not admit to receipt because he did not purposely download these images. He has lost his fiance, his ability to ever teach in the college system again and he will be labeled a sex offender the rest of his life. He did go to counseling and it was established that he had an addiction. But he was told that a trial could land him in jail for 20 years. He had no choice. This is just wrong. Patsy

Posted by: Patsy | Apr 27, 2010 12:36:16 PM

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