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February 12, 2016

At debate, Bernie Sanders promises that "at the end of my first term as president we will not have more people in jail than any other country"

The-possibles-bernie-sanderv02I have lost interest not only in blogging before for every Presidential debate, but also in watching most of them.  But, perhaps not surprisingingly as the Prez campaign marches forward to more diverse states than Iowa and New Hampshire, last night's Democratic debate saw Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders talking about modern policing, racial disparities in our criminal justice system and mass incarceration.  Of particular note was Sanders making the promise highlighted in the title of this post.  Here is a little bit more of what Senator Sanders had to say on these fronts:

This mandatory sentencing, a very bad idea. It takes away discretion from judges.  We have got to demilitarize local police departments so they do not look like occupying armies.  We have got to make sure that local police departments look like the communities they serve in their diversity.

And, where we are failing abysmally is in the very high rate of recidivism we see. People are being released from jail without the education, without the job training, without the resources that they need to get their lives together, then they end up -- we're shocked that they end up back in jail again.  So, we have a lot of work to do.

But, here is a pledge I've made throughout this campaign, and it's really not a very radical pledge.  When we have more people in jail, disproportionately African American and Latino, than China does, a communist authoritarian society four times our size.  Here's my promise, at the end of my first term as president we will not have more people in jail than any other country. We will invest in education, and jobs for our kids, not incarceration and more jails.

Helpfully, Leon Neyfakh not only noticed this significant promise, but also quickly authored this Slate commentary about it. The headline of the post provides a flavor of its themes: "Sanders Is Delusional if He Thinks He Can Keep His Promise on Mass Incarceration."  Here is the heart of is effective commentary:

What Sanders means by this is that under just four years of his magical leadership, the U.S. will bring down its jail and prison population by about 600,000 people.  Where does that figure come from?  Consider that the No. 2 spot on the list of countries with the most prisoners in the world right now is China, and it has about 1.66 million people behind bars.  The U.S., by comparison, has about 2.3 million.

Sanders did not mention during his remarks how he plans to make the leap from 2.3 million to fewer than 1.66 million. But regardless of what he has in mind, it’s pure fantasy for several reasons. Chief among them is that the president of the United States has no direct control over most of the nation’s correctional facilities.  This is because jails, which currently hold fewer than 745,000 people, are under local control, and state prisons, which hold about 1.35 million, are under state control. That leaves the federal prison system — the only one that the federal government is actually in charge of — with 210,000 people, or about 10 percent of the pie.

It’s true that the president has a “bully pulpit” from which he can say inspiring things that set the tone for officials working at all levels of government.  It’s also true that in theory, the federal government could try to bribe state governments to rely less on incarceration.  But the bottom line is that the feds can only set policy for their own prison system and that means there’s a very low ceiling on the amount of progress that a president, no matter how ambitious he or she is, can do to reduce the prison population....

This would be a good time to remember, also, that Congress’ current efforts to bring down the prison population by enacting very modest sentencing reforms appear to be falling apart in slow motion because there are enough lawmakers in Washington who think it’s too dangerous to set anyone free, ever.  And this is at a time when there’s supposed to be a historic bipartisan consensus over the need for reform.

If Sanders wants to release more than 500,000 people by 2020, he’s going to have to break them out personally.  If he has a more efficient approach in mind, he needs to share it before he makes this ridiculous promise again.

February 12, 2016 at 08:57 AM | Permalink


More SLATE shilling for Hillary. Simply by directing the DOJ to move pot to an appropriate Schedule in the federal scheme, any President to date could have had wide-reaching impact on not only federal numbers but enormous pressure on state and local numbers as well without a single nod to Congress. As pressed as states are to meet needs right now and will be far more so as this latest recession sinks in, a President can also press for more positive and negative fiscal sanctions and contracting for states that find non-incarcerative alternatives, just as a President named Clinton managed to pump up the building of prisons two decades ago. Let individual congresspeople stand in the way of hogs needing more and new trough. No money for this? Well, just call it "bailing out Wall Street and the big banks" and suddenly trillions can be found with just a few keyboard clicks.

Posted by: mike | Feb 12, 2016 9:35:50 AM

Just get rid of ALL Byrne Grants period. Make the locals pay for the amount of "safety" they want. Also, no more "joint" federal-local task-forces and locals cannot make up the difference by "civil" - (Hah) forfeiture. Since when is stealing civil, Oh-yeah - taxes. Also. stop the lies by claiming that all sex-acts involve trafficking of some sort.

But, never-ever remove pot from Schedule 1. Everyone knows that this is THE gateway drug:

First pot, then hashish, then special K, then meth, then coke, then heroin, then a bona-fide member of the C&C blog.

Posted by: albeed | Feb 12, 2016 10:49:46 AM

Free at last! Free at last! Thank Dog Almighty, I am Free At Last!

Posted by: JackMehoff | Feb 12, 2016 1:37:03 PM

WOW!!!! Good luck !!!!

Posted by: claudio giusti | Feb 12, 2016 3:22:46 PM

This promise is nonsense. There's only so much he can do about state convictions and even less he can do without a radical change in Congress (assuming he wants to tie funds to incarceration).

Posted by: Erik M | Feb 12, 2016 5:09:32 PM

Per capita incarceration rate is probably what he meant. There are countries (like Turkmenistan and Cuba) that are not far behind us. So it's not that crazy of a promise.

There would need to be some kind of new federal statute giving financial incentives to states to reduce incarceration, as well as a massive amount of federal pardons and retroactive sentencing reductions.

The four states that have legalized marijuana (I imagine soon to be joined by California) are not retroactively reducing marijuana sentences, but they should, and this would make some difference as well.

Posted by: AnonCrimProf | Feb 13, 2016 8:49:31 PM

The RepubliCons have had a mantra since the 1930s. Tough on crime, tough on communists and now tough on Muslims. Soft on crime is the accusation they level against the Democrats. While they may be soft on their wives in a given situation the Republicans are hard on girlfriends. It is a two legged sword so to speak.

Posted by: JackMehoff | Feb 14, 2016 10:28:39 AM

But see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-wagner-givens/no-bernie-sanders-did-not_b_9276422.html

Posted by: Ryan | Feb 22, 2016 12:52:47 PM

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