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April 5, 2009

"States pull back after decades of get-tough laws"

The title of this post is the headline of this extended AP report from this weekend.  Here are some excerpts from an effective piece that details legal reform developments in numerous states:

For the last four decades, the laws of the land were all about dropping the hammer on crime by locking away criminals for a very long time.... Nearly half the country and the federal government have adopted some kind of hardcore laws, while "get tough on crime" became the mantra of politicians running for everything from the local city council to the president of the United States....

But after cracking down and incarcerating hundreds of thousands, cash-strapped states including New York, Kentucky and Kansas are pulling back. They face an uncommon confluence of dire economics and prisons bursting at the seams and several have changed, in whole or in part, their stances on hard punishment.

Their reasons: the get-tough laws didn't always work, especially when it came to slowing recidivism, the revolving door of prisoners who get out, mess up again, and come back. There were legal challenges, and questions about whether the punishment always fit the crime.

And of course, there's the money. In tough economic times, the expensive laws are increasingly being deemed expendable.... "The rapid rise in prison populations over the past two decades has now collided with the fiscal crisis," said executive director Marc Mauer.

April 5, 2009 at 09:43 PM | Permalink


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What about the moral shame that a country that is the beacon of hope and opportunity for people all over the world deals with its inevitable failures and pathologies by putting people in cages at a rate greater than almost any other nation, petty, brutal dictatorships included?

Posted by: Anon | Apr 6, 2009 7:30:18 AM

Oh come now, surely you see the hazard in allowing the lay people to run free.

I probably should note that a lot of the statistics about incarceration include people on probation, supervised release, etc. In terms of raw numbers, most arrests are for misdemeanors which often do not result in long jail terms. (And are not nearly as sexy as the federal felonies obsessed about on here.)

Posted by: S.cotus | Apr 6, 2009 9:27:33 AM

Most of this dates back to Ronald Reagan when orgainzed religion--mostly evangelicals--for the first time decided to commandeer a major [Republican] political party and began a new wave of legal authoritarianism that sucked up many lives and took a toll that will continue to last well into the 21st Century. This is what is called working within the system. However, this unwanted infiltration into the American legal system has wasted valuable tax revenue which ironically comes from those who feel that they are too special to support this country with a fair share of the tax burden. And those member churches continue to enjoy their tax exempt status despite violating the First Amendment's establishment clause. One of the key issues here is when minor crimes result in incarceration with NO BOND. If people are not outraged, then they are not paying attention.

Posted by: R.amon | Apr 8, 2009 3:48:52 PM

If we Americans valued wisdom and justice as much as looking tough, there'd be far fewer of us in prison and we'd measure up better to all the self-aggrandizing, "we're No. 1" slogans we like to toss about.

And it certainly doesn't speak well for us that budget deficits (as opposed to a collective compulsion to clean up our act) are compelling sensible changes.

Posted by: John K | May 27, 2009 5:38:21 PM

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