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February 13, 2010

"A Blue-Ribbon Look at Criminal Justice"

The this of this post is the headline of this editorial from today's New York Times.  Here are excerpts:

The nation’s criminal justice system is in need of an overhaul. This is particularly true of its incarceration policies. Too many people are being put behind bars who do not need to be there, at great cost to the states, and not enough attention is being paid to helping released prisoners re-enter society.

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted to create a blue-ribbon commission to study the justice system and offer reforms. The bill’s main sponsor was Jim Webb, a Democrat of Virginia who is one of the Senate’s more thoughtful voices on crime and punishment.

Among the issues the commission would study is why the United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world.  Prisons are filled with a large number of nonviolent offenders, including minor drug offenders.  In many cases, it would be more humane, economical and effective to provide drug treatment and mental health alternatives.

The high imprisonment rate has long been troubling as a matter of fairness, but with the recession it has become an enormous financial burden.  States have begun, out of fiscal necessity, to parole prisoners faster and in larger numbers, and to look for alternatives to incarceration.  This scattershot approach is far from ideal.  It would be better to have experts address these issues at a national level in a more methodical way....

The bill has strong support from both civil rights and law enforcement groups.  The Senate leadership needs to push it to a vote, and the House needs to get to work on passing a companion bill.  A broad consensus has emerged that the system is broken. 

I am very supportive of Senator Webb's proposals to create a blue-ribbon commission to study the justice system and offer reforms.  But I am also very pessimistic that such a blue-ribbon commission would be an important or effective first step to needed national state or federal sentencing reforms.

After all, we have had a blue-ribbon panel in the form of the US Sentencing Commission full of experts from both sides of the political spectrum urging Congress to eliminate mandatory minimums for nearly two decades and urging an end to the crack/powder disparity for 15 years.  And yet we are still waiting for Congress to heed the USSC suggested reforms.

February 13, 2010 at 03:11 PM | Permalink


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The blueness, the commissioness of this proposal is strictly for the appearance of virtue. Its real intent is to loose the lawyer client on hapless poor neighborhoods and to generate more lawyer employment. The latter is down 40% since the enactment of sentence guidelines, and honesty in sentencing laws. I have no doubt that if all crimes committed in prison were reported or surveyed among victims, the crime rate would remain the same as in past. It just moved to prison. It is the person, not the crime that matters and must be stopped.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 13, 2010 4:02:41 PM

Yaaaaaawn (more for the comment above than the post itself).

Posted by: anon | Feb 13, 2010 11:49:50 PM

This commission can do DNA verification of guilt on the general population of prisons. That would estimate the rate of innocence in prison. If the vile criminal lover wants to start releasing prisoners, why not start with the likely massive fraction of absolutely innocent ones?

This lawyer rent seeking commission will never do that. The lawyer has evil as a client, not innocence.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 14, 2010 12:27:39 AM

Well said. Your service to sound thinking when it comes to matters of sentencing law and policy is much appreciated. Keep doing what you're doing.

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We would appreciate your input.

Posted by: James | Feb 14, 2010 9:17:39 AM

I agree. Our jails are overcrowded and overburdened with people that just shouldn't be there. Support Webb and his committee!

Posted by: Sexy Mexican Women | Jun 26, 2010 9:12:01 PM

Great article! Drug treatment is a must for minor drug offenders, teach them how to deal with their addiction and become successful members of society. Jail time should not be the punishment for every crime, there has to be a better alternative for minor crimes.

Posted by: Sandy- Criminal Justice Student | Nov 8, 2010 2:41:44 PM

Very good post. Made me realize I was totally wrong about this issue. I figure that one learns something new everyday. Mrs Right learned her lesson! Nice, informative website by the way.

Posted by: supra shoes | Nov 11, 2010 1:49:01 AM

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