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December 14, 2009

A fitting and overdue call for "conservatives to take ownership of prison reform"

This op-ed by Ross Douthat in today's New York Times, which is titled "Prisons of Our Own Making," is the best and most-important piece of post-Clemmons commentary I have seen in the weeks since Mike Huckabee has been pilloried for granting clemecny to a prisoner who, a decade later, went on a horrific murder spree.  Here are excerpts:

If you’re a governor with presidential aspirations, you should never, under any circumstances, pardon a convict or reduce a sentence.  That’s the lesson everyone seems to have drawn from the dreadful case of Maurice Clemmons, an Arkansas native who murdered four Lakewood, Wash., police officers over Thanksgiving weekend — nine years after Mike Huckabee, then governor, commuted his sentence and the Arkansas parole board set him free.

Even before Clemmons was shot dead the following Tuesday by Seattle police officers, a chorus of pundits had declared Huckabee’s presidential ambitions all but finished. His prospective 2012 rivals — Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin — hastened to suggest that they never considered issuing a pardon while governor.  And even observers sympathetic to Huckabee’s decision (Clemmons’s original 108-year sentence was handed down when he was only 16, and for burglary and robbery, not murder) tended to emphasize its folly.  Joe Carter, who handled rapid-response for Huckabee’s 2008 campaign, acknowledged that the “prudent tactic would have been to simply refuse to grant any leniency — ever.”

This calculus has recent American history as well as crude political logic on its side.  Without conservative lawmakers willing to “err on the side of punishing” (as Palin put it after the Clemmons shooting), America might still be swamped by the crime wave that engulfed the country in the 1960s and ’70s....

There are superficial resemblances, much cited in the last two weeks, between the Horton case and the tragic parole of Maurice Clemmons.  But the political context is completely different. The age of furloughs is long gone. For a generation now, conservatives, not Dukakis-style liberals, have been making policy on crime.  They’ve built more prisons, imposed harsher sentences and locked up as many lawbreakers as possible.

Their approach has worked.  The violent crime rate has been cut by nearly 40 percent since its early-1990s peak.  The murder rate is at its lowest point since Lyndon Johnson was president.

Yet the costs of this success have been significant: 2.3 million Americans are behind bars.  Our prison system tolerates gross abuses, including rape on a disgraceful scale.  Poor communities are warped by the absence of so many fathers and brothers.  And every American community is burdened by the expense of building and staffing enough prisons to keep up with our swelling convict population.

Mass incarceration was a successful public-policy tourniquet.  But now that we’ve stopped the bleeding, it can’t be a permanent solution.  This doesn’t require a return to the liberal excuse-making of the ’60s and ’70s.  Nor does it require every governor to issue frequent pardons. (A capricious mercy doesn’t further the cause of justice.)

Instead, it requires a more sophisticated crime-fighting approach — an emphasis, for instance, on making sentences swifter and more certain, even as we make them shorter; a system of performance metrics for prisons and their administrators; a more stringent approach to probation and parole.  (“When Brute Force Fails,” by the U.C.L.A. public policy professor Mark Kleiman, is the best handbook for would-be reformers.)

Above all, it requires conservatives to take ownership of prison reform, and correct the system they helped build.  The Democrats still lack credibility on crime policy.  Any successful reform requires the support of the law-and-order party.

To their credit, some Republican lawmakers (many of them religious conservatives) are already hard at work on this issue.  But the case of Maurice Clemmons may cast a long shadow over conservative politics, frightening politicians away from even the most sensible reforms — lest they wake up to a tragedy, and find themselves assigned the blame.

December 14, 2009 at 07:02 PM | Permalink

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Comments

A balanced, thoughtful editorial for the most part. I even agree with the primary prescription--an emphasis on making sentences swifter and more certain. However, this has been point one in the sentencing reformer's playbook for the last 35 years. A noble goal but the devil is in the details and the courts and the defense bar show no signs of signing on.

Many court decisions expand the rights of the individual. Others muddle rather than clarify the law. Against this backdrop, how do we achieve swifter and more certain sentencing?

Posted by: mjs | Dec 14, 2009 8:15:56 PM

"For a generation now, conservatives, not Dukakis-style liberals, have been making policy on crime. They’ve built more prisons, imposed harsher sentences and locked up as many lawbreakers as possible.

"Their approach has worked. The violent crime rate has been cut by nearly 40 percent since its early-1990s peak. The murder rate is at its lowest point [in more than 40 years]." ###

Thank you.

"Yet the costs of this success have been significant: 2.3 million Americans are behind bars. Our prison system tolerates gross abuses, including rape on a disgraceful scale. Poor communities are warped by the absence of so many fathers and brothers. And every American community is burdened by the expense of building and staffing enough prisons to keep up with our swelling convict population."

The absence of so many "fathers and brothers" who're into selling drugs, gunplay on the streets and domestic abuse is hardly a development to be mourned. If they don't want to become "absent," they might trouble themselves to behave.

It's true that there has been a cost. Justice and safety aren't free. No one said they were. The cost is overstated, however, since it does not take account of the social and economic benefits of having reduced crime victimization.

"Mass incarceration was a successful public-policy tourniquet. But now that we’ve stopped the bleeding, it can’t be a permanent solution."

Translation: "When we have a successful public policy that has substantially reduced the number of crime victims, the obvious thing to do is GET RID OF IT and go back to the old way, as long as we call the old way something spiffy like 'sophisticated' or 'smart on crime'."

The author takes Republicans to be as stupid as they sometimes certainly appear to be. It's not necessarily a bad bet, but my sense is that it's not going to work.

The New York Times to the contrary, Maurice Clemmons was not a mirage and not something to be brushed off as just one of those things.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 14, 2009 8:36:30 PM

By all means, because one person who received clemency committed crimes nines years later, let's do away with clemency. Of course, by the same token, because one person who was incarcerated was found to be innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, we should stop locking up those convicted of crimes. Or something. Oh, and the all-to-usual straw man starter kit has made its appearance as well. I'm not surprised.

Posted by: Mark # 1 | Dec 14, 2009 10:04:58 PM

NY Times. Harvard. I don't about Junior. Those are presumptive, automatic disqualifiers for any seriousness. Why? Because everyone from these treason indoctrination camps hates our country. He has to prove he resisted the left wing indoctrination. He has to prove he even knew about it, as it was going on.

Here is a test for him.

123D.

Endorse that. Then let's discuss ending all crime, not just 40%.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 14, 2009 10:18:04 PM

One thing you have to give to Mr. Otis. He is consistent at being consistently wrong. He continues to hang on the idea that the conduct and deserved severe punishment of the worst of the worst, the baddest of the bad must apply to all. Never give someone a second chance when you can kick him in the head. He refuses to acknowledge that some, especially the first time-non violent offender, often can be rehabilitated and returned to society as a tax payer rather than a tax burden. He advocates the continued expansion of a failed system that only offers graduate courses in failure. I submit that I am not alone in saying that I am tired of paying for it. And old SC, well he is also consistently consistent at...........who the heck understands anything he says?

Mr. Otis is not alone in attempting to make this a Liberal/Conservative issue. He calls himself conservative and, I think, would attempt to classify someone with my views a liberal. In all honesty, my politics run a little to the right of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity. etc. My conservative bent began as LBJ (whom I voted for) put in motion policies that sent me and a great number of my generation to fight and die in Vietnam while at home he was starting the "Great Society", the beginning of our current welfare society, while, along with McNamara, playing, as if with toy soldiers, at a war he had no intention of winning. My conservatism got another boost when Mr. Jimmy(Peanut)Carter,(god help me I voted for him too)now known as the worst president in history, pardoned the scum that refused to serve while almost destroying our economy on the side.(BTW, anyone see a similar situation now?) HadEnough of that crap became a Reagan Conservative and still am.

All of that aside, none of it has anything to do with the issue. The issue should be neither liberal nor conservative, black or white, Democrat or Republican. It is an issue, first and foremost, of all parties doing the right thing to protect the public interest and safety of American Citizens yet tempering punishment with compassion in some cases. Not all, justsome and they must be carefully screened. The one size fits all approach of Mr. Otis and others has not worked as they claim. It has only covered up the problem temporarily. It will not work because sooner or later the problem will be too large to cover up and citizens, tiring of funding failure, will demand an accounting. Many of us are tired of it now, are calling for a new approach and the numbers are growing.

Sorry Mr. Otis. Your claims of insight because of some minor role in the Bush justice department, "I know a few Republicans, having been a political appointee in the Bush Justice Department" won't wash." Attitudes like yours give real conservatism a bad name.

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 14, 2009 10:55:18 PM

Had says, "... the first time-non violent offender, often can be rehabilitated and returned to society as a tax payer rather than a tax burden."

There are no first time non-violent offenders in stir. Those are on probation, or out on the highway doing clean up. Everyone in prison today is a walking natural disaster of destruction, violence, and massive drops in real estate prices everywhere they go.

The Wikipedia entries on the characters in the movie Casino are 10 times more compelling than the movie. When Little Nickie arrived in Vegas, the murder rate coincidentally rose 70%.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 14, 2009 11:05:24 PM

HadEnough:

the problem is, too often, "the public interest" is conflated with "petty shortsighted vengeance-seeking" and/or "fear of dark-skinned people"

disregarding that, i think your final assertion, that mr. otis's comments give conservatism a bad name, are wrong. conservatism did that all by itself, decades ago.

Posted by: rageahol | Dec 15, 2009 3:10:39 AM

HadEnough --

"One thing you have to give to Mr. Otis. He is consistent at being consistently wrong. He continues to hang on the idea that the conduct and deserved severe punishment of the worst of the worst, the baddest of the bad must apply to all. Never give someone a second chance when you can kick him in the head. He refuses to acknowledge that some, especially the first time-non violent offender, often can be rehabilitated and returned to society..."

One thing you might want to watch out for is creating straw men that can be so easily refuted. What I actually think about this I said to Daniel six
days ago. Notice that my words are the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you attribute to me:

"I don't believe that incarceration is the only way to reduce crime. For serial killers, the DP is probably better. For people who actually are low-level, first-time, non-violent offenders, I see nothing wrong with probation and/or fines, on a case-by-case basis."

I'd ask for an apology, but I won't, since apologies are seldom sincere, and, more to the point, I don't think you did it intentionally. I just think you get overheated.

"He advocates the continued expansion of a failed system that only offers graduate courses in failure."

I didn't know a 40% reduction in crime is a "failure," but when you can invest words with whatever meaning you want, I guess anything goes.

"I submit that I am not alone in saying that I am tired of paying for it."

If you are the Reaganite you say you are, you know that the growing burden of government spending is caused by the explosion in entitlement costs. All criminal justice costs combined are a pitance by comparison. If a point be made of it, though, keeping dangerous people off the streets is worth some expense.

Still, congratulations on becoming a conservative. I don't know that Carter was the worst president in history, but he gave it a good run. LBJ was actually worse, I think, because he sacrificed so many thousands of American soldiers in a war that, as you correctly point out, he had no intention of winning. He was also one fantastic liar. Not for nothing did our generation nickname him, "Lyin' B. Johnson."

"Sorry Mr. Otis. Your claims of insight because of some minor role in the Bush justice department, "I know a few Republicans, having been a political appointee in the Bush Justice Department" won't wash."

That was directed to virginia, a liberal who was giving me lectures about the internal dynamics of the Republican Party. Having been a Republican appointee, I believe I know more on that subject than she. And probably you, unless you have some experience you aren't disclosing.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 3:39:02 AM

rageahol --

"i think your final assertion, that mr. otis's comments give conservatism a bad name, are wrong. conservatism did that all by itself, decades ago."

My, my, my. You lefties need to keep up.

From the October 27, 2009 Christian Science Monitor (first four paragraphs in the story):

"Conservatives continue to outnumber liberals by a wide margin, with moderates nearly as numerous as conservatives, according to data from 16 separate Gallup surveys.

"Meanwhile, public opinion on a variety of specific issues shifted rightward in 2009, Gallup says. More American adults hold conservative views than did in 2008, saying they see too much government regulation of business, want less influence by labor unions, favor laws that are less strict on the sale of fire arms, desire less immigration, consider themselves pro-life, and believe reports of global warming are exaggerated.

"Issues in which public opinion has not moved to the right since 2008 include the death penalty, gay marriage, the Iraq war, and Afghanistan.

"The latest information on the growing number of conservatives confirms a finding Gallup reported in June. The polling organization says 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as conservatives, 36 percent as moderate, and 20 percent as liberal. The figures represent a change from the period 2005-2008, when moderates were tied with conservatives as the most prevalent group." ###

Here's the link to the whole article: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/The-Vote/2009/1027/conservatives-outnumber-liberals-2-to-1-gallup-finds

Happy reading!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 4:18:03 AM

I've read “When Brute Force Fails" and was underwhelmed - anyone else?

Posted by: hishonor | Dec 15, 2009 8:51:37 AM

"There are no first time non-violent offenders in stir. Those are on probation, or out on the highway doing clean up."

SC you are more delusional than I imagined if you really believe this.

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 15, 2009 9:48:32 AM

Having spent too much of the last few days watching the first season of "Dexter," I understand conservatives now and have to admit I find them likable. I even root for them. Of course, their motivating trauma was not like Dexter's but was the terrible 60s. Nonetheless, they are sympathetic characters. No kidding. Dexter's "core principles" are appealing. Long live the "Code of Harry."

Posted by: George | Dec 15, 2009 12:28:46 PM

George --

What's "Dexter"?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 1:00:55 PM

Mr. Madoff is a first time non-violent offender.

Posted by: John Neff | Dec 15, 2009 1:34:30 PM

Bill. And those statistics prove, what exactly.

I favor laws that are less strict on the sale of fire arms, I desire less immigration, I consider myself pro-life, and I believe reports of global warming being caused by humans are exaggerated.

I voted for Ralph Nader.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 15, 2009 1:37:55 PM

"I didn't know a 40% reduction in crime is a "failure," but when you can invest words with whatever meaning you want, I guess anything goes."

Mr. Otis, the "Artful Dodger" strikes again attempting to make his point and leaving out the critical word in his version of the published statement. The published statement read "The violent crime rate has been cut by nearly 40 percent since its early-1990s peak."
A definite plus IMHO but do you see the critically important word that Mr. Otis chose to leave out? Yep, that’s it, some of you are paying attention, the word is VIOLENT. Makes a huge difference does it not? I just don't seem to remember any reference to violent offenders in my previous post other than this supporting the “deserved severe punishment of the worst of the worst, the baddest of the bad.” To clarify, the “DESERVED SEVERE PUNISHMENT” of the worst of the worst, etc. And, just for the record, I don’t think that I characterized the 40% reduction in the VIOLENT crime rate a failure. My reference was to the system in general. Who is playing with words here? What are the numbers regarding first time non-violent offenders? Have they gone down? Or are we filing up prisons with offenders that could be punished/rehabilitated using other methods freeing expensive space for the incarceration of those that present a real threat to society?

Mr. Otis stated, "I don't believe that incarceration is the only way to reduce crime. For serial killers, the DP is probably better. For people who actually are low-level, first-time, non-violent offenders, I see nothing wrong with probation and/or fines, on a case-by-case basis."

But again, he omitted a critical part of his own statement, as he went on to say:

“There is one thing that IS simple, and that is that the overall national data overwhelmingly show that the more you incarcerate people who commit crime, the less crime gets committed.”

You say that you don’t believe incarceration is the only solution but you seem to endorse the idea, based on “national data” (can’t spin national data can we?) that it is the best way. Which is it, incarceration or the alternate solution and when would you apply the alternative?

“I'd ask for an apology, but I won't.”

Apology for what, that I think that your position is wrong? Not likely. In fact, perhaps it is you that should apologize for being so wrong so often.

The author of the article says: “Mass incarceration was a successful public-policy tourniquet. But now that we’ve stopped the bleeding, it can’t be a permanent solution.”

That is really the crux of the matter. It worked for a while but has reached the point of diminishing return as the individual states as well as the federal system are breaking the bank attempting to continue funding failure and the overall system is, by many accounts, a miserable failure.

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 15, 2009 1:43:11 PM

Daniel --

"And those statistics prove, what exactly?"

That rageahol is either dishonest or wholly uninformed. He stated: "i think your final assertion, that mr. otis's comments give conservatism a bad name, are wrong. conservatism did that all by itself, decades ago."

Gallup's figures show that conservatism, far from having a bad name, is subscribed to by twice as many people as liberalism; that it has more adherants than either the moderate or liberal categories; that it has been growing in strength in recent years; and growing even more last year in particular.

Not exactly what you'd call a political brand with a "bad name."

Relatedly, Gallup and Rasmussen (the two polls that came closest to the actual outcome last year) also show Obama almost every day at new lows, as the public becomes more aware of how left wing his domestic agenda really is.

Might I ask why you voted for someone whose views are the opposite of yours on so many important issues?


Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 1:55:49 PM

John Neff --

"Mr. Madoff is a first time non-violent offender."

That's why it has to be on a case-by-case basis.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 2:00:10 PM

Rageahol,
You may be correct when you say the problem is "the public interest" is conflated with "petty shortsighted vengeance-seeking", but your second statement "and/or "fear of dark-skinned people" while certainly having merit causes me a little pause because, as I said, this can't be allowed to be an issue based on race and I am aware of the numbers regarding minorities.

And just to be fair to Mr. Otis, regarding your next statement,

"disregarding that, i think your final assertion, that mr. otis's comments give conservatism a bad name, are wrong. conservatism did that all by itself, decades ago."

My comment referenced Mr. Otis' attitude not his comments and while both are consistently wrong, only his attitude was charged with helping give conservatism a bad name.

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 15, 2009 2:00:23 PM

John Neff --

"Mr. Madoff is a first time non-violent offender."

"That's why it has to be on a case-by-case basis."

OMG,
Mr. Otis just posted the response above to John Neff and bless his heart for once he is right and it just purely makes me proud to have been here to see it. Thank you Mr. Otis, progress is being made.

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 15, 2009 2:10:02 PM

HadEnough --

"My comment referenced Mr. Otis' attitude not his comments and while both are consistently wrong, only his attitude was charged with helping give conservatism a bad name."

Only it doesn't have a bad name.

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/The-Vote/2009/1027/conservatives-outnumber-liberals-2-to-1-gallup-finds

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 2:11:15 PM

"Might I ask why you voted for someone whose views are the opposite of yours on so many important issues?"

You can but in all honesty it has nothing to do with sentencing law and would get us way off topic.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 15, 2009 2:14:53 PM

HadEnough --

1. That there has been a 40% reduction in VIOLENT crime since the early 1990's -- at the same time the incarceration rate has increased -- makes my argument stronger, not weaker. The fact that increased incarceration has accompanied a very substantial reduction in what are generally regarded as the most serious crimes is an even stronger endorsement for incarceration than the one I outlined. Thank you for pointing that out.

2. In an attempt to pre-empt the twisting of my words that I can already see coming, the paragraph above is NOT a statement that incarceration is always the answer.

3. "Apology for what, that I think that your position is wrong?"

No, for mis-stating my position, which can be found in the words I use, not your characterization of them.

4. I said that "the overall national data overwhelmingly show that the more you incarcerate people who commit crime, the less crime gets committed.”

Do you agree with that statement? Yes or no.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 2:33:38 PM

I also greatly appreciated Douthat's call for conservatives to take ownership of criminal justice policy and to start re-thinking the policies that have led to today's rates of mass incarceration.

However, I wondered about the premise that Douthat seemed to take for granted: that the reduction in violent crime in recent decades was caused by the rise of mass incarceration.

Is this really something around which there is scholarly consensus? I suppose it makes some intuitive sense at first glance that some of the decline in crime would have been caused by a higher incarceration rate, but my understanding is that those who have really studied the problem with sophisticated statistical analysis generally don't think that this explains the full decline or even very much of it. Especially, e.g., with drug-related crimes where there are always new participants who can be "recruited" into the drug trade and "replace" those sent to prison (I know we are talking about violent crime here but obviously the drug trade can lead to violent crimes). And my understanding is also that at the local/state level there is not necessarily the same correlation between rising incarceration rates and crime rates. Thus, we have had all the alternate theories for explaining the decline in violent crime ranging from the Freakonomics abortion theory, to broken windows policing, to economic prosperity, etc. Whatever you think of these theories, it seems like there wouldn't be these types of investigations going on at all if everyone agreed that it was as simple as, mass incarceration was obviously and primarily the cause.

Also, this premise doesn't account for the body of research suggesting that prison itself is criminogenic. So maybe mass incarceration actually *prevented* crime rates from falling further than they otherwise might have?

I understand why, for rhetorical reasons, Douthat may have chosen to build off this premise as a way of speaking to conservative law-and-order types who wouldn't ever question it. But I guess I am just curious -- maybe Doug can weigh in -- as to whether this is actually something scholars in the field agree with -- I admit I'm not fully versed in the social science literature here.

The reason I ask is, it seems like a weird basis on which to build a call for reform because then you are implicitly suggesting that mass incarceration had some side benefits (namely the reduction in violent crime) and that, thus, reform efforts, if they go awry, might come at the risk of seeing violent crime go up again. This would seem to make any reform a riskier proposition than people may be willing to bet on. So, I wonder if in trying to craft his message in a way that would appeal to law-and-order conservatives, Douthat's op-ed may have actually had the opposite effect.

Posted by: law student | Dec 15, 2009 5:24:35 PM

Mr. Otis, as a famous hero of this country once said, "There you go again".

"I said that "the overall national data overwhelmingly show that the more you incarcerate people who commit crime, the less crime gets committed.”
Do you agree with that statement? Yes or no. "

I agree that you said (you, not the article) that "the overall national data overwhelmingly show that the more you incarcerate people who commit crime, the less crime gets committed.”, but to little else in your response. Do you agree that "national data" as you call it is routinely presented in such a manner as to fit the position of the presenter? Data validity notwithstanding, I believe that the discussion was in regard to the validity of alternates to incarceration as an equally effective solution to the overall crime rate not just the violent crime rate?

"No, for mis-stating my position, which can be found in the words I use, not your characterization of them."

Well, OK but if you object to my using "all" of your words and then pointing out that your "I don't believe that incarceration is the only way" statement followed by your seeming endorsement of the "national data" that, in part says "the more you incarcerate people who commit crime, the less crime gets committed” could reasonably be seen as contradiction then so be it. I don't see that as mis-stating your position only challenging it or questioning whether you really have a position.

You know, overwhelming "national data" shows that many in the legal profession have become so disengaged that they have no position, will argue either side of any issue and the only thing that matters is win at any cost. Think there is any merit to that? Surely not in such a noble body but then, there have been a few lately, an AUSA or two come to mind, who have admitted to lying and manipulating evidence and people to get a conviction. Check out the recent trial of one of your own in Columbus for a good example. He was acquitted BTW but where is the outrage toward the sleazy Prosecutor who admitted on the stand that he had lied. I am not really digressing, only trying to show another part of the problem with over incarceration in this country.

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 15, 2009 6:21:48 PM

bill: "That was directed to virginia, a liberal who was giving me lectures about the internal dynamics of the Republican Party. Having been a Republican appointee, I believe I know more on that subject than she"

me: I get the impression that you think that you know more about everything than I do :P

Posted by: virginia | Dec 15, 2009 6:26:14 PM

"Only it doesn't have a bad name."

Well......just depends on who you lisiten to and the current bunch did not get elected without a bunch of fair weather conservatives helping the process. Reckon the attitude mentioned could have had anything to do with the turncoats turning and how do you sugggest we get them back?

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 15, 2009 6:26:14 PM

mr. otis:

just because a poll says your "team" is popular does not mean that its philosophy is not morally bankrupt.

Posted by: rageahol | Dec 15, 2009 6:40:09 PM

Mr. Rageahol --

"just because a poll says your 'team' is popular does not mean that its philosophy is not morally bankrupt."

What it means is that you were not being truthful when you said, at rageahol | Dec 15, 2009 3:10:39 AM, that conservatism has a bad name.

Having something in one's moral bank account starts with telling the truth. Once we get that straightened out, sensible debate becomes possible.

Conservatism means, among other things, paying your own freight and expecting others to pay theirs; believing that the money you earn belongs to you before it belongs to the government; believing that adults of sound mind are responsible for their acts, including criminal acts; and believing that the United States, being a virtuous rather than a contemptible place, is worth defending with force.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 8:02:21 PM

Ginny --

"I get the impression that you think that you know more about everything than I do."

Wrongo. I have no doubt that you know more about advising guilty people about how to beat the rap than I do, or care to.

I do, however, know more about the internal dynamics of the Republican Party than you, which was the subject.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 8:09:10 PM

HadEnough --

Gads. How many times do I have to say it? YOU don't get to decide my position. I get to decide it.

You have said a couple of times now that there's a "seeming" contradiction between (1) my view that incarceration is not called for in every instance, and (2) the fact that, the more criminals we incarcerate, the less crime we'll have.

And if incapacitation and deterrence were the SOLE goals of punishment, you'd be right. Forgive me for thinking that the people posting on this site (including, I thought, you) know better than that.

Anyone with even rudimentary acquaintance with criminal law knows that there are at least two other major factors in fashioning a sentence, namely, just punishment and rehabilitation. There are numerous instances in which those two goals outweigh the other two. These instances are most likely to be found, as I said, in first-time, low-level, non-violent offenders.

It is of course true that we could advance incapacitation and (possibly) deterrence by always incarcerating such offenders. But in many cases it would not advance rehabilitation, and most importantly it would be excessively harsh and therefore unjust.

I can't believe that I have to explain this to you. No AUSA who has worked for 18 days, much less the 18 years I did, fails to know this. And I sincerely doubt you don't know it either. I think you're just trying to toss up dust.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 8:35:57 PM

HadEnough --

Re: your question about how conservatives get back to winning the Presidency.

That is an involved question, but I'll give part of the answer, namely, by suggesting what the Republican ticket should be.

For President, a man of principle and great strength, who stuggled as few of us have had to in order to attain his high rank, and who believes in the Constitution as written and the rule of law, Justice Clarence Thomas.

For Vice-President, the man who brought us victory in Iraq when all looked lost, and who, if adequately supported by the administration, will bring us victory in Afghanistan as well, General David Patraeus.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 8:50:16 PM

OK Mr. Otis you got me. I like your ticket

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 15, 2009 9:13:06 PM

"YOU don't get to decide my position. I get to decide it.

Well, not quite. I did not decide it, just questioned and challenged your commitment to it.

But I still like your ticket.

Posted by: HadEnough | Dec 15, 2009 9:16:42 PM

HadEnough --

Well you see there. We agree on something. The Christmas spirit must be taking hold.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2009 9:42:40 PM

DID “THREE STRIKES” CAUSE THE RECENT DROP IN CALIFORNIA CRIME? (pdf)

We conclude that there is no evidence that Three Strikes played an important role in the drop in the crime rate. Moreover, to the extent that Three Strikes might have contributed to crime reduction, it did so by deterring potential offenders rather than by incapacitating those convicted of an offense.

VIII. CONCLUSION

When crime goes up, government officials usually blame the rise on factors beyond their control such as a disintegration of the family, violent television or video games, or increased drug use. But, when crime goes down, those same officials are quick to claim
the credit. And sometimes, officials try to have it both ways. When most crime statistics dropped in 1993, but the murder rate increased, California’s Attorney General claimed that the state’s tougher approach to criminals was responsible for the general decline, but that “the glamorizing of violent behavior in movies, music, video games and professional sports” was to blame for the increase in homicides.152

It was not surprising, therefore, that the same Attorney General now claims the Three Strikes policy he has championed is largely responsible for the recent sharp drop in crime. Government reports on important and complex legislation should be balanced and fair. Unfortunately, the Attorney General’s report is a brief in favor of Three Strikes rather than a serious analysis of the measure.

See also PRISONS DON'T PREVENT CRIME: CONSERVATIVE THINK TANK.

Aside, Bill, having to explain the "Dexter" joke would ruin it.

Posted by: George | Dec 16, 2009 1:24:41 PM

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