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August 19, 2013

Notable inside-the-Beltway discussion of modern sentencing politics

The Washington Post has this notable new piece with lots of notable quotes and notes about the modern politics of sentencing reform.  The piece is headlined "Cuccinelli says sentencing policy should be judged, in part, on cost," but it covers both federal and state sentencing politics.  Here is how the article starts:

Five days after he announced his candidacy for governor of Virginia, Republican Ken Cuccinelli II showed a side of himself seemingly at odds with his reputation as a tough law-and-order conservative.

The Virginia attorney general stood proudly at a news conference in late 2011 announcing the exoneration of a Richmond man who had spent 27 years in prison after being falsely convicted of rape. Cuccinelli had personally championed the man’s innocence, a sign of the broad evolution in Cuccinelli’s views on crime and punishment that would also lead him to argue that a frugal government should be more discerning about whom it puts behind bars.

“There is an expectation that the generic Republican position is tough on crime,” Cuccinelli said in an interview Thursday. “But even that has budget limits, particularly on the prison side."

Two decades after Republican George Allen charged into the Virginia governorship by vowing to eliminate parole for violent offenders, a rhetorical shift among the state’s leading conservatives reflects changing attitudes toward criminal justice nationwide.

U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. underscored the new dynamic last week when he announced reforms aimed at reducing sentences for some low-level offenders and slowing massive growth in the nation’s prison population. Republicans, who have targeted Holder on other issues, were generally supportive. The attorney general urged passage of legislation that has been introduced in Congress with bipartisan support that would give ­judges more discretion in applying stiff sentences to some drug crimes.

One person who discussed the plans with Holder said that the Obama administration felt like the political terrain was safe to make those kinds of policy ­changes because of the “conservative cover." The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussion was private.

Amid fiscal problems caused in part by massive prison populations and research showing that mass incarceration causes social harm, some leading conservatives have been pushing for reforms.

A generation ago, Republicans savaged Democrats as soft on crime, until former President Bill Clinton and others joined the GOP in a crackdown that continued even as the nation’s violent crime rate plummeted to historic lows. “This is a fundamental shift in how we see criminal justice," said David A. Harris, a University of Pittsburgh professor who studies crime and police. “There is a growing awareness of the fiscal and social costs of our great experiment in mass incarceration, and the balance has shifted from trying to look unrelentingly tough to asking what works best."

In a 1994 Gallup poll, 52 percent of Americans called crime the nation’s most pressing problem. Last month, that number was 2 percent. Other surveys show that fewer Americans support mandatory prison terms for offenders than in the mid-1990s, and fewer believe courts are too lenient with criminals.

August 19, 2013 at 01:17 PM | Permalink


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<> "In a 1994 Gallup poll, 52 percent of Americans called crime the nation’s most pressing problem.
Last month, that number was 2 percent." <>

Thanks to:
less parole,
more sex registry,
more three strikes,
more incarceration,
more truth in sentencing,
more stop and frisk profiling,
more 'broken windows' policing.

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 19, 2013 3:32:50 PM

Adamakis --

As you implicitly observe, the article is breathtakingly dishonest in failing to note that the reason crime has fallen off is on account of the very measures it attacks.

What's going on is nothing more than smug complacency calling itself "smart." The same people who relished the crime explosion of the Sixties and Seventies want to bring it back by re-instituting the same policies that nourished it to begin with. They didn't give a damn then and they don't now.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 20, 2013 12:27:02 AM

Prof. Otis:
Ah the '70s . . . It is as though they itch to bring it back: a nostalgia for afros, choker chains, & terry cloth perhaps,
or is it for Son of Sam, Ft. Apache the Bronx, & the Symbionese "Liberation" Army?

JFK rightly paraphrased Chesterton as such:
--> "Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up."<--
—Art Schlesinger Jr., 1965, A thousand days: JFK in the White House

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 20, 2013 10:25:20 AM

"the same policies that nourished it to begin with"

The baby boom, changing economic developments that caused various social unrest and decreased opportunities for young men, misguided drug war polices, and other things of that nature?

Posted by: Joe | Aug 20, 2013 11:52:38 AM

|"the same policies that nourished it to begin with" |
Yes Joe, exactly.

For instance, when I visited Spanish Harlem for a wedding in 1992, I was
o- confronted by a drug pusher,
o- listened to gun shot after gun shot from my relative's apartment, and
o- witnessed gangsters or drug dealers parade up and down the block.

6 months later – after former DA Giuliani became mayor -- the papers revealed that under Mayor Dinkins,
part of the NYPD's 25th precinct was "on the take", taking gangster bribe money with the agreement not to patrol
or to delay response
. [Do you care about how many people were raped or died due to this policy?]

o- Mayor Dinkins forbade the police from evicting even the boldest of homeless trespassers from people's doorsteps,
enabling them to urinate, accost, and degrade neighbourhoods throughout the 5 boroughs.

He promoted a less aggressive and more understanding police force, sought dubious prosecutions of officers
and more, all-of-which-Giuliani-reversed- when he instituted the "broken windows" policy, supported the police,
and sought the banning of porn shops in Times Square.

Vagrant despoilers went to jail or shelter, Disney, Fox, and co. moved in to Time Square, [whilst Flint & co. flew out]
and the great decrease in NYC crime began.

Yes Joe, policies can alternatively nourish or starve crime. … Hence I am a law-abiding Christian, ergo I am a Conservative.

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 21, 2013 10:55:21 AM

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