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July 10, 2009

Important and heartening new speech from AG Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder delivered this speech at the Vera Institute of Justice last night. There are too many notable sections of this long speech to cover here, so I will just call the whole speech a must-read.  Here is an excerpt highlights key themes from the start of the speech:

The Vera Institute of Justice has been an extraordinary partner to government in the administration of justice.... Your practical, rational, data-driven, results-oriented approach can best be described as post-partisan. In the five months that I have served as Attorney General, I have tried to take that same approach, and that is what I would like to talk about this evening: how we can move past politics and ideology in order to get smart on crime.

Getting smart on crime requires talking honestly about which policies have worked and which have not, without fear of being labeled as too hard or, more likely, as too soft on crime. Getting smart on crime means moving beyond useless labels and instead embracing science and data, and relying on them to shape policy. And it means thinking about crime in context – not just reacting to the criminal act, but developing the government’s ability to enhance public safety before the crime is committed and after the former offender is returned to society.

It is imperative that we get smart on crime now, for much has changed since some of our basic, governing assumptions about criminal law enforcement were developed. In the middle years of the twentieth century, America went through an historic increase in crime and illegal drug use. In the 1960s and 70s, the overall crime rate increased more than five-fold. Violent crime nearly quadrupled. The murder rate doubled. And heroin, cocaine and other illegal drug use surged.

Many lawmakers in the 1980s responded by declaring, in rhetoric and in legislation, that we needed to get tough on crime. States passed truth-in-sentencing and three strikes and you’re out laws. Some state parole boards became more cautious, while other states eliminated discretionary parole altogether. The federal government adopted severe mandatory minimum sentencing laws, eliminated parole, and developed the federal sentencing guidelines.

The federal government and states spent billions of dollars in new prison construction. The result was dramatic: the number of inmates in American prisons has increased seven-fold since 1970. Today, one out of every 100 adults in America is incarcerated – the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Few would dispute that public safety requires incarceration, and that imprisonment is at least partially responsible for the dramatic drop in crime rates nationwide in recent decades. By 2007, the nation’s violent crime rate had dropped by almost 40% from its peak in 1991. But just as everyone should concede that incarceration is part of the answer, everyone should also concede that it is not the whole answer. Simply stated, imprisonment is not a complete strategy for criminal law enforcement.

To begin with, high rates of incarceration have tremendous social costs. And, of course, there also is the matter of simple dollars and cents, and the principle of diminishing marginal returns. Every state in the union is trying to trim budgets. States and localities are laying off teachers and canceling sanitation department shifts, but in almost all cases, spending on prisons continues to increase. Not only is this unsustainable economically, but it is also not proving to be effective at fighting crime. For while prison building and prison spending continue to increase, public safety is not improving. Since 2003, spending on incarceration has continued to rise, but crime rates have flattened. Indeed, crime rates appear to have reached a plateau, and no longer respond to increases in incarceration.

So what can we do to lower the crime rate further, to make American communities safer, to get smarter on crime?  We need new tools – and one way to develop new tools is to look several steps past getting people into prison, and to consider what happens to people after they leave prison and reenter society.


Some related old and new posts:

July 10, 2009 at 11:48 AM | Permalink


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The lawyer drools at the prospect of loosing thousands of vicious predators. Jobs are coming back. The Vera Institute is a biased, left wing front organization that promotes evil. Nothing it says has the slightest credibility. It is a Soros funded, garbage spewing, criminal lover front organization. It is unfortunate that blacks keeping voting Democrat, and carry the burden of crime victimization so left wing government dependent ideologues can continue to profit.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 10, 2009 1:50:13 PM

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