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October 29, 2015

More notable comments from Deputy AG Yates about "how badly we need" sentencing reforms

Earlier today Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates spoke at Columbia Law School about criminal justice reform. Her full speech, available at this link, merits a full read. Here are excerpts:

These days, there’s a lot of talk about criminal justice reform. We are at a unique moment in our history, where a bipartisan consensus is emerging around the critical need to improve our current system.  About a month ago, a coalition of republican and democratic senators unveiled a bill — called the sentencing reform and corrections act — to address proportionality in sentencing, particularly for lower level, non-violent drug offenders.  In short, we need to make sure that the punishment fits the crime.  Last week, I had the privilege of testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the many promising pieces of that legislation.

And I know how badly we need reform.  As the Deputy Attorney General, I oversee day-to-day operations for the Justice Department, which includes not just our nation’s federal prosecutors, but also the FBI, DEA, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service and the federal prison system.  I see all sides of our criminal justice system and I can tell you confidently: the status quo needs to change.

We need a new approach and we need a better approach.  We need to be willing to step back, look at how we’ve managed criminal justice in the past and be willing to adjust our way of thinking....

We need to think differently.  We need to look beyond our own experiences and accept that there may be new and better, ways of doing things.  I saw one example of that just this morning. I visited a drug court in federal court in Brooklyn that focuses on giving offenders a chance to escape the grip of drugs.  Instead of lengthy prison sentences, the program is designed to hold the defendants accountable, but to do it in a way that offers support, drug treatment and job opportunities.  While it’s true that there are dangerous defendants from whom society needs to be protected, there are others, like the defendants I saw today, for whom alternatives to incarceration make a lot more sense.

This new way of thinking is beginning to resonate in federal and state systems all across the country.  At the Justice Department, to achieve more proportional sentencing, we have directed prosecutors to stop charging mandatory minimum offenses for certain low-level, non-violent drug crimes.  The president has granted clemency to scores of individuals who received sentences longer than necessary under our harshest drug laws — with more to come in the months ahead.  Twenty-nine red states and blue states across the country have passed innovative reforms.  Even Congress — which doesn’t agree on much these days — is on the cusp of significant sentencing reform legislation.

But if we are really serious about building safe communities, if we are really committed to justice, as a country, we have to be willing to invest in stopping crime before it starts. We have to be willing to invest in breaking the cycle of generational lack of access to educational opportunity and resulting illiteracy and poverty.  We have to be willing to invest in real prevention and prisoner reentry opportunities and do it in a big systemic way, not just a smattering of pilot programs.  We all know that we can’t simply jail our way into safer communities.  But until we are willing to invest in preventing crime the same way we are willing to invest in sending people to prison, our communities will not be as safe nor will our system be as just as it should be.

When we talk about prevention, we need to include in that rehabilitation. Because prisoner rehabilitation is crime prevention.  The fact is, more than 95 percent of all prisoners will eventually be released from prison.  And we know that as things currently stand, about 40 percent of federal prisoners and two-thirds of those released from state prisons will reoffend within three years.  We have to break that cycle.

We also know that the best way to reduce recidivism is to reintegrate ex-offenders into our communities — they need stability, support and social ties to turn away from the errors of their past.  They need jobs and homes; friends and family.  Yet so many people in our society want nothing to do with anyone with a rap sheet.  There are too many people willing to pin a scarlet letter on those who have spent time in prison.  The irony, of course, is that this view is self-defeating — that by ostracizing this class of citizens, we only increase the risk of recidivism and we make our country less safe, not more.

It is up to all of us to reject this way of thinking.  Rather than creating even greater distance between ex-offenders and the communities they’re re-joining, we should be focusing our energy on developing more effective paths for reentry....

Achieving meaningful criminal justice reform will not be easy.  And we must all participate in this process, government and private citizens alike.  Three decades ago, when our country was focused just on being “tough on crime,” it was impossible to imagine that we would ever find a way to return proportionality to our sentencing laws. But we are closer than ever, thanks to the sustained efforts of those willing to call out injustices and demand meaningful change.  It’s time that we collectively discard old assumptions and embrace new ideas.  In other words, it’s time we all collectively put two fingers to our temples.  Our nation and our fellow citizens deserve nothing less.

October 29, 2015 at 06:41 PM | Permalink

Comments

NYT Editorial, last Sunday for perspective. Large law school debt and no lawyer job.

Something must be done. Raise the crime rate again.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 29, 2015 6:50:42 PM

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/25/opinion/sunday/the-law-school-debt-crisis.html?_r=0

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 29, 2015 6:50:51 PM

This black racist, vile feminist lawyer wants to loose thousands of black ultra-violent, super-predators, and go after white defendants by the thousands.

She should be immediately be impeached.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 30, 2015 12:05:08 AM

Doug, if this:

These days, there’s a lot of talk about criminal justice reform. We are at a unique moment in our history, where a bipartisan consensus is emerging around the critical need to improve our current system. About a month ago, a coalition of republican and democratic senators unveiled a bill — called the sentencing reform and corrections act — to address proportionality in sentencing, particularly for lower level, non-violent drug offenders. In short, we need to make sure that the punishment fits the crime. Last week, I had the privilege of testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the many promising pieces of that legislation.

is true, why are they wanting to release criminals who used a gun?

Posted by: federalist | Oct 30, 2015 7:49:24 AM

"We also know that the best way to reduce recidivism is to reintegrate ex-offenders into our communities — they need stability, support and social ties to turn away from the errors of their past. They need jobs and homes; friends and family. Yet so many people in our society want nothing to do with anyone with a rap sheet. There are too many people willing to pin a scarlet letter on those who have spent time in prison. The irony, of course, is that this view is self-defeating — that by ostracizing this class of citizens, we only increase the risk of recidivism and we make our country less safe, not more."

This is a dumb statement. Apparently Yates hasn't heard of the tragedy of the commons---let's take as a given the idea that society would benefit. OK, but what this dim bulb misses is that the individuals making individual decisions about letting guys with rap sheets in their lives bear the risk. So it's pretty dumb to talk in terms of "many in our society" taking actions that are "self-defeating"---I don't have people with rap sheets in my life--it ain't self-defeating. And that's precisely what makes the problem so intractable. By the by, how many people in Mrs. Yates' life have rap sheets? Mrs. Yates' fellow travelers at the EEOC like to try to punish companies for barring people with criminal records from employment--of course, doing that would put ordinary people in contact with criminals with often tragic results---when Obama is willing to let his kids hang with criminals, I'll take seriously idiots like Yates mouthing silly nonsense like keeping criminals out of one's life is self-defeating. The Kankas probably wished they could have kept Timmendequas out of their lives.

Yates' comments display a fundamental lack of understand of how the world works (tragedy of the commons), yet we're supposed to take them seriously? Please, Doug, explain why we should.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 30, 2015 8:28:56 AM

The NIMBY problem you highlight, federalist, is a real and serious one. But I assume the way Yates hopes to deal with this is to start to deconstruct the notion that every ex-offender should be stigmatized. Already, we do not really stigmatize dangerous drunk drivers (until they kill) and we are starting to stigmatize marijuana dealers a lot less. If we continue with a changed societal perspective, we all could end up more safe. You are right that this is not easy nor wil it be done without risks or mistakes. But do you think she is wrong to suggest that this is an effort worth trying if it helps produce a safer society for all?

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 30, 2015 9:50:51 AM

Doug, what I am suggesting is that her words evince a fundamental misunderstanding of reality, and I note the hypocrisy. I think we need to start with you acknowledging that. She gets on her high horse and disparages people who, golly gee, don't want criminals in their lives and even suggests that they make themselves individually less safe. Yet she doesn't understand what you accurately call the NIMBY problem. Why should she be taken seriously if she doesn't fundamentally get a huge issue?

I get it that people have records and that they last forever, so to speak, given computerized records etc. And that has significant impact--no doubt, and one that I would like to find ways to mitigate without imposing undue risk on others. I've said so here before--but I am not going to sit and listen to arrogant, hypocritical dilettantes like Yates because you think her heart is in the right place. And I am going to call out nonsense. Obama's EEOC thinks nothing of putting ordinary people in the lives of criminals via employment, yet none of those who work for the EEOC has to work with a criminal. When you start calling out this sort of hypocrisy, as well as some of the hyperbole of Obama in this debate, maybe, just maybe, I'll pay attention to hectoring moralizing from twits like Yates.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 30, 2015 10:12:31 AM

Wow, drug courts, Safe Communities, "break the cycle," reentry. Only thing missing from the last 20 years of "new ideas" was "smart on crime," but maybe it will now be "two fingers to our temples." The gentlemen above can go back on their meds safely. There's nothing new or dangerous to their cherished worlds in what she's saying, a reflection of where and how impoverished we are idea-wise in criminal justice. Once all the low-hanging fruit picked with these new ideas is gone from the trees, the higher branches will still be filled and expanding with the gentlemen's preferred planets, and the low-hangers, as exemplified by the current federal "reform" legislation, will soon be back for re-picking and once again be called "reform," justifying DOJ and consultants to continue to gather their own resources for and to pay their mortgages and kids' college tuitions. Truly new ideas for real reform that are out there and could have been the topics of the Deputy AG's speech, such as the work from Pfaff and Ball or the analyses by Bibas or Stuntz frequently highlighted on this blog, would put those activities and careers at risk. What are the actual odds that they will ever happen? The question answers itself.

(Go wild, er, wilder, gentlemen. I won't be back for your comments.)

Posted by: mike | Oct 30, 2015 10:28:05 AM

"But if we are really serious about building safe communities, if we are really committed to justice, as a country, we have to be willing to invest in stopping crime before it starts. We have to be willing to invest in breaking the cycle of generational lack of access to educational opportunity and resulting illiteracy and poverty. We have to be willing to invest in real prevention and prisoner reentry opportunities and do it in a big systemic way, not just a smattering of pilot programs. We all know that we can’t simply jail our way into safer communities. But until we are willing to invest in preventing crime the same way we are willing to invest in sending people to prison, our communities will not be as safe nor will our system be as just as it should be."

That's some more twaddle, and Doug, why aren't you calling her out on it? First of all, this Administration has been chill with releasing vast numbers of illegal alien criminals onto our streets. If the Administration would simply enforce the law, we'd be safer--a lot safer. So, why doesn't this dizzy twit mention that? Because it's politically inconvenient---so instead she wants to blame meanies who aren't willing to "invest" more in schools. Why aren't you calling her out? Also, does this idiot really think that the people that are building prisons at the state level which house the vast majority of criminals in the country don't care about schools and education? By the way, 87% of prisoners at the state level are violent criminals or serial property offenders. Doug, why aren't you calling out this bit of awful demagoguery? As for schools, does this dizzy twit have any idea how much money is spent by schools in this country? The failure of Detroit Public Schools isn't really from a lack of spending, as the per pupil spending is very high there. Doug, why aren't you calling out this obvious demagoguery from a high public official? Instead, you try to play word games with me.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 30, 2015 7:30:45 PM

I demand to know the home address of Secretary Yates. I will then have the houses surrounding hers condemned under Kelo. I will then invite 8 released black thugs to move into each. I will sue any neighbor that objects and the local zoning board under the The Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA). It is settled law that the federal courts will support this placement, and will grant me a temporary restraining order.

No doubt she has Secret Service protection. However, my tenants will easily shank them and dispatch them so they may do their business, with her and her home. Why is her address sacrosanct and safe from the consequences of this black racist's appalling policies? I will then invite her to try to sell some drugs in the same street as my tenants, which is now their territory for drug sales for these non-violent drug dealers.

No doubt, the Bloods and Crypts will shorty be exploring the neighborhood as well.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 31, 2015 2:46:54 AM

Mike. Come back here. Every alternative you mentioned is rent seeking quackery. Pick one, and let's review the data.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 31, 2015 2:49:34 AM

Mike. I have a new idea. Kill all the violent criminals and end crime by attrition. It would be nice if the DOJ funded research to identify them prenatally, and to encourage their crack whore mothers abort them in the first trimester. That is a more elegant solution.

The only obstacle is lawyer unemployment. However, I have also proposed shrinking the profession by a half and quadrupling their incomes. I have plenty far more productive lawyer activity than the criminal law for them.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 31, 2015 2:55:33 AM

You are welcome in this forum, federalist, to say what you think about DAG Yates and others (though I always urge such comments to be respectful). But I feel no obligation to say what you think about DAG Yates or others. Meanwhile, while you are eager to criticize Obama's law enforcement efforts (and other stuff he does), we have experienced modern record low crime rates during the Obama years.

DAG Yates seemingly believes, based on her experiences, that bringing down crime and recidivism still further could and would be further improved through reallocation of taxpayer resources away from punitive criminal justice tools toward other social servives. Positive experiences with so-called "justice reinvestment" in many states over the last decade seem to provide an empirical foundation for her views.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 31, 2015 12:06:56 PM

I don't ask you, Doug, to parrot my views, but the reality is that her screed has a lot of holes in it--one of which you concurred. And why the heck should I be "respectful"---Deputy AG Yates insulted the views of those who, correctly, have figured out that harsher punishments for violent and career criminals (which is who the states incarcerate) produce a lot few dead people. Already Doug, a ton of money is spent on "social services" and education, and Yates wants us to spend less on what we know works and spend more on things that we're already spending a lot of money on. Moreover, Doug, she ignores the crimes of criminal aliens (including drunk drivers) despite the negative impact on public safety.

As for Obama and the crime rate--surely you jest--first of all, Obama has NEVER been in favor of the sentencing policies that have reduced crime--in fact he has been overly critical of them (by the way--Illinois punishments aren't really that harsh btw), Second of all, crime has been dropping forever--maintaining the trend hasn't been his doing, and, in fact, he's done things to counteract the reduction in crime. For example, and I doubt you'll have a word to say about this---Obama's Haiti suspensions of deportations failed to exempt criminals from that lenience--the predictable result--Haitian criminals had to be released based on Zavydas v. Davis (a decision caused by 'rats and their judicial appointees) and they committed more crime. Three people in Florida were murdered by one of them. So basically Obama's screw up killed three people. Deal with that.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 31, 2015 1:20:50 PM

Prof. Berman. We have reviewed the low crime rate in the past. It comes from the self evident factor of incapacitation, and also from the as yet undiscovered drop in the fecundity of criminals from incarceration. The 10 kids not spawned from 10 crack whores in the 1990's would now be committing 200 crimes a year, each. So each year of prison prevents 2200 crimes not 200 crimes a year in the street.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 31, 2015 1:40:43 PM

federalist, I have neither the time nor inclination to debate all the specifics of so many of Obama policies in this space that you obviously find problematic. I was just observing that we have continued to have declining violent crime rates despite a reduced emphasis on sentence severity during the Obama years. You and Bill and others might readily assert that crime would be even lower if we kept prison rates climbing and climbing, but many states (both red and blue) and DAG Yates and many others on both the right and the left appear to believe (perhaps misguidingly) that we can better serve public safety now through some different investments. I remain agnostic on a lot of these fronts "what works" fronts, though I tend to think fighting the drug war with long prison sentences is a net loser for taxpayers and society (as we seemed to have decided with alcohol Prohibition).

I do not view what DAG Yates said here to be a screed, and I did not not mean to assert it had a hole in it, but rather tried to get you to see that she seems to acknowledge the challenge of the NIMBY problem in this arena and is trying to, indirectly, urge folks not to let the NIMBY problem prevent us as a nation from making wiser public safety investments. In the end, you have a different perspective than Yates on what you think would bee best allocation of taxpayer resources, and you can implement and lecture about your vision if/when you garner a position like Deputy AG Yates. Until that time, you are welcome to criticize her position in this space.

That all said, it is really getting tiresome, federalist, that you keep asserting that I should spend my time making the criticisms that you want to make. Just make them yourself. I suppose I should be flattered that you seem so very eager to have me to somehow bless (or even originate) your attacks on Yates or Kennedy or Clinton or Obama or all the others you disagree with. But I already have trouble finding time to say all that I want to say/do --- I know I will always lack the time to say all that you, for whatever strange reasons, seem so eager for me to say/do.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 31, 2015 2:12:04 PM

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