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August 5, 2012

New York Times editorial laments "Too Many Prisoners"

I am pleased to see this new editorial from the pages of the New York Times.  It is headlined "Too Many Prisoners," and here are excerpts:

The Justice Department in its recent annual report on federal sentencing issues wisely acknowledged that public safety can be maximized without maximizing prison spending. As it noted, the growing federal prison population, now more than 218,000 inmates, and a prison budget of almost $6.2 billion are “incompatible with a balanced crime policy and are unsustainable.”

The department calls for reforms “to make our public safety expenditures smarter and more productive.”  Yet it fails to address sentencing changes that should be made, which would significantly reduce the problem of overincarceration in federal prisons.

Last fall, the United States Sentencing Commission issued a comprehensive report that said mandatory minimum sentences are often “excessively severe,” especially for people convicted of drug-trafficking offenses, who make up more than 75 percent of those given such sentences.  Mandatory minimums have contributed in the last 20 years to the near tripling of federal prisoners, with more than half the prisoners now in for drug crimes....

The Justice Department report does not mention mandatory minimum sentences or their major contribution to overincarceration in federal prisons.  And it fails to urge Congress to make repealing mandatory minimums a high priority, as it should.  It does not mention releasing older prisoners, which the Federal Bureau of Prisons has the power to do.

Nor does it mention adjusting its own policies on drug cases so it would put away fewer offenders not considered dangerous.  About 25,000 people were convicted of federal drug offenses last year, almost the same number as during the Bush administration in 2008 — a substantial proportion in low-level roles of drug trafficking, according to the Sentencing Commission.

Recent related posts on DOJ's Annual Letter to US Sentencing Commission:

August 5, 2012 at 06:33 AM | Permalink


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The alternative to cheap prison costs is massive social services for the criminal and his hundreds of victims a year. This "empty the prisons" movements is a Trojan horse for public employee unions, a fight between the guards and the social workers. I am betting on the social workers, because they are smarter and can use trick language better than less educated guards.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 5, 2012 9:15:40 AM

Making various drug offenders "criminals" is part of the problem, so the first comment is at least partially a matter of definition. If we stick to imprisoning the sorts of people with "hundreds of victims," it would be better.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 5, 2012 10:34:32 AM

I am waiting for the more useful and necessary editorial entitled, "Too Many Criminals"

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 5, 2012 10:38:28 AM

TarlsQtr --

I have this feeling you'll be waiting a long time.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 5, 2012 2:45:20 PM

My suggestion would be that we agree on an ideal size for a prison population FIRST, and then adjust the laws accordingly.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 5, 2012 4:13:13 PM

that's an easy number to get S.cotus.

How many politicians do we have?

There's your number!

Now we just need a few laws that make them illegal!


Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 6, 2012 10:31:04 PM

SC, I've noticed you seem just as comfortable running with the fox as chasing with the hounds? You repeatedly argue (sometimes in the same thread) the system is predatory, corrupt and inept... AND ...most every citizen the flawed system snags should be executed. Do you actually believe a botched, tyrannical system should nonetheless have such sweeping, lethal powers?

Also, it's hard not to notice that two of the louder fans of harsh (lengthy, costly) sentences (Bill and, if I remember correctly, Tars) once made their livings in the incarceration industries. Not drawing any conclusions...just sayin'

Apart from backing off on the useless, costly drug war, the problem at the federal level could be further reduced by somehow harnessing bogus, phantom, derivative, Commerce Clause crimes such as wire fraud (using a fax machine), money laundering (misnamed), lying to federal bureaucrats (not under oath) and other modern era Waltham Black laws capable of making even ordinary, law-abiding citizens easy pickings for the feds.

Posted by: John K | Aug 7, 2012 10:23:59 AM

John K stated: "Also, it's hard not to notice that two of the louder fans of harsh (lengthy, costly) sentences (Bill and, if I remember correctly, Tars) once made their livings in the incarceration industries. Not drawing any conclusions...just sayin'"

OF COURSE you are "drawing conclusions" in the same McCarthyesque fashion as the most despicable Senator ever, Harry Reid.

Your problem on the logical level is that it is the mother of all genetic fallacies.

I would also ask if you have made a similar statement regarding the scores of defense attorneys frequenting this blog (are you one?)that are always for coddling criminals. Are you intellectually honest or a hack who believes that only those opposing you are motivated by self-interest?

Not drawing any conclusions...Just sayin'

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 7, 2012 11:29:36 AM

Harry Reid? The most despicable senator ever? Whoa! You do run a little hot, don't you Tars?

Save your McCarthy comparisons for more deserving lawmakers such as Michele Bachmann and Allen West.

Reid just wants to know if Richie Rich paid taxes more than twice over the past decade or so. Besides, before melting into a puddle of right-wing goo you might want to wait and see if what Reid said turns out to be true.

Posted by: John K | Aug 7, 2012 3:19:44 PM

First,I cannot help but noticing that you did not even address the main points of my post. A) Most of the people here are defense lawyers or others who have an interest in coddling criminals. B) Your comment that I quoted is a logical fallacy, specifically a genetic fallacy. C) You failed to answer whether or not you are a defense attorney.

Secondly, your defense of Harry is pretty lame. The man has between a $7-$10 million fortune and has spent his entire life in government. He lives at the Ritz-Carlton and does not release HIS OWN tax returns. You seem to like accusations, so here is one that is far more plausible than the "Romney paid no taxes" idiocy: How does a city attorney, state legislator, Lt. Governor, and US Senator amass that kind of fortune?

You stated: "Reid just wants to know if Richie Rich paid taxes more than twice over the past decade or so."

Wrong. Reid does not just "want to know". He made an accusation, one that makes no sense. How would a "Bain shareholder" know if Romney paid taxes?

You stated: "Besides, before melting into a puddle of right-wing goo..."

Yeah, sure. Meanwhile, you fall right into the leftist class hatred. Here is a lesson for you. Do not be jealous of "Richie Rich." He is richer than you because he is smarter and works harder.

You stated: "...you might want to wait and see if what Reid said turns out to be true."

Personally, because I am not a jealous class warrior I do not care.

EVEN IF he paid no taxes, he did not break any laws. We may not have his tax returns, but the IRS does.

Also, it would not make Reid's act any less despicable (not to mention, hypocritical).

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 7, 2012 3:56:22 PM

well john i have to give TarlsQtr this one!

I can still remember a similiar mess a few decades ago after the philiphenes gov fell and the president and his wife ran for it and ended up in hawaii.

The govt seized most of the assets and they went to court to stop it.

govt found it hard to do the math. Presidential Salary 12k a year. assets BILLION plus! WHERE did the money comes from besides being STOLEN from the govt and people of the philiphines!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 7, 2012 4:21:39 PM

John K --

You imply that I support putting criminals in the slammer because I was in the "incarceration industy."

1. That's a bizarre term for an AUSA.

2. I haven't been an AUSA for 13 years, and am now among the most anti-incarceration of groups, to wit, academics. If my vocation were to provide an incentive for my views, it would be the opposite of what you claim.

3. In fact, I hold the views I do for the reasons I give, not because of what I did. If you want to dispute the reasons, feel free. But just attacking the alleged motive is unworthy, not to mention unpersuasive.

4. In any event, you've got it backwards, even taken on your own terms. I am not pro-prosecution because I used to be an AUSA; I became an AUSA because I believed, then and now, that your white collar swindler friends, not to mention Jerry Sandusky, Loughner and other cheery members of the crew, should be accountable for their behavior.

5. Like, TarlsQtr, I'd be interested in whether you'd be "just sayin'" that the pro-criminal views of the defense lawyers who post here trace back to their anti-incarceration industry interests. Have you ever said that? Will you now?

P.S. I'll bet you a hundred bucks here and now that Romney paid more taxes in the last ten years than Obama. Are we on?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 7, 2012 9:16:39 PM

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