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June 3, 2015

New Deputy AG suggesting every too-long federal prison sentence hurts public safety

This recent NPR piece, which provide a mini-profile on the new Deputy Attorney General, Sally Yates, has a headline and some quotes that might be effectively utilized by defense attorneys to argue that any unduly long federal prison sentence damages national public safety.  The piece is headlined "No. 2 At Justice Warns Growing Prison Budget Detracts From Public Safety," and here are excerpts:

Prosecutors usually spend their energy putting criminals behind bars — not urging their release. But racial disparities in the system and the huge costs of locking up so many people are pushing some government officials to call for a new approach. One of them is the woman who now runs day-to-day operations at the Justice Department. Sally Yates says she's hardly soft on crime: "I'm a career prosecutor."...

"I've been at this for 27 years now," Yates says. "I believe that it's really imperative that we do everything we can to keep our communities as safe as possible but to do that in a way that is just and fair."

The Senate confirmed Yates last month as deputy attorney general. She's using her new platform as the second in command at the Justice Department to warn the expanding prison budget has begun to threaten public safety.

The federal government spends $7 billion a year to incarcerate about 200,000 inmates. That's money she says that could pay for more FBI agents and local police. "We know that it's the cop on the street that's one of the most important things to be able to keep our communities safe. But yet over the past decade, there's been a 40 percent reduction in the grant money that's available for cops on the street," Yates says.

New Justice Department estimates obtained by NPR suggest the situation will only get worse over the next decade. If nothing changes, the projections say authorities will need to take tens of millions of dollars that could have been devoted to community policing and local law enforcement, and instead, pour that money into federal prisons. "It is simply not sustainable for us to continue at the present rates that we are now of our incarceration levels," she says.

Yates is taking that message to Capitol Hill. She wants members of Congress to dial back long mandatory prison sentences for nonviolent drug criminals. Red States like Texas and Georgia launched efforts to overhaul their justice systems years ago. Now a left-right coalition of groups from the ACLU to Koch Industries is advocating for a smarter approach at the federal level too....

The Obama administration says it has reduced both the violent crime rate and the number of people going to prison. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, one of Yates's main supporters, crowed about the data in a speech last year: "This is the first time, the first time that these two critical markers have declined together in more than 40 years."

June 3, 2015 at 09:10 AM | Permalink


It is disingenuous for an official at DOJ to decry mandatory minimums. US Attorneys have the discretion to charge cases in ways that do not trigger minimums in all but a handful of cases. Someone should ask her for a list of people she personally prosecuted that she believes received inappropriately lengthy sentences, along with an explanation for her charging and advocacy decisions in those cases.

Posted by: Tom | Jun 3, 2015 9:34:51 AM

Yates prosecuted Eric Rudolph, someone who fully deserves his life sentence and incarceration at the ADX, so I expect she recognizes that long sentences are appropriate in some cases.

Posted by: Gary Hill | Jun 3, 2015 9:51:51 AM

The Obama administration claims it has reduced the violent crime rate. Interesting claim, considering that I just read a Wall Street Journal article explaining that the murder rate in Baltimore is at a record high. And, the murder rate in NYC has shot up 20% since last year. Murders in Atlanta have increased by 30%. Shootings in Chicago increased by 24%. And, murders in Milwaukee increased by a whopping 180%. I am confident, however, that things will get better when we release all of those "non-violent drug dealers" back to their communities. No doubt, those "non-violent drug dealers" will help heal the communities, they will serve as positive role models for the youth, they will become community leaders, they will be fathers and mothers who support their children, they will not use drugs, they will work hard to make an honest living, they will not possess guns, they will not re-join gangs, they will not shoot people, they will not steal, and they will no longer sell poison to kids.

Posted by: hmmm | Jun 3, 2015 3:12:40 PM

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