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July 24, 2019

Noticing the (inevitable?) contentions that the right people are in prison and the wrong people are getting out

At a time of considerable excitement about a range of criminal justice reforms (including leading Prez candidates seeking to outdo each other with ambitious reform proposals), and with the mainstream press giving coverage to many important human (and human-interest) stories surrounding the release of prisoners with the implementation of the FIRST STEP Act, it can be all too easy to forget that not everyone sees a need for criminal justice reform and not everyone is excited to see people released from prison.  These pieces caught my eye in recent days as providing useful examples that there are still plenty of folks eager to contend that the right people are in prison and the wrong people are getting out:

From the City Journal by Rafael Mangual, "Everything You Don’t Know About Mass Incarceration: Contrary to the popular narrative, most American prisoners belong behind bars."

From the Conservative Review by Daniel Horowitz, "Well, well: Criminal justice ‘reform’ wasn’t about ‘non-violent’ offenders after all"

From Fox News by Gregg Re, "Exclusive: Violent criminals and sex offenders released early due to 'First Step Act' legislation"

Some of these pieces are more responsible than others (e.g., the Fox News piece is particularly ugly for making much of the fact that all types of prisoners got the benefit of the "good time fix" that became effective last week). But all of these pieces highlight the kind of rhetoric and reasoning that it seems will be an inevitably enduring part of criminal justice conversations.

UPDATE: I have now seen these two notable responses to the last of the pieces noted above:

From Reason by C.J. Ciaramella, "Tucker Carlson's Unhinged Rant Against Prison Reform Makes Us All Dumber: Carlson claims the law 'allowed hundreds of violent criminals' back on the street. Here's what he didn't tell you."

From the Washington Examiner by Derek Cohen, "Tucker Carlson and John Kennedy get the First Step Act all wrong"

July 24, 2019 at 03:14 PM | Permalink


Since about 1870 numerous presidents and members of congress have decided who must, may and may not be in federal prisons. Similarly, governors and state legislators have made similar decisions about state prisons. The historical record is clear that none of the governors and legislators in 1979 wanted their prison population to quadruple.

Once it started to increase they did not know how to stop it because there is no central control in the criminal justice system. Eventually they reduced or stopped increasing the prison capacity and the growth slowed, stopped or deceased depending on the state. An expensive unintended consequence that caused a great deal of collateral damage. There is no reason to believe that it cannot happen again.

About 95% of the prison inmates are released and since about half of the state inmates are serving sentences for violent crimes it is normal that some of them are also released and return to their community. Some folks don't want them in their community and they are the audience for the articles.

Posted by: John Neff | Jul 24, 2019 11:57:29 PM

Demagoguery and fear-mongering. Just what you expect. Should be effective.

We are a stupid and fearful people.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Jul 25, 2019 11:17:12 AM

What about those on useless probation reporting? How about getting off the sex offender list and having to report after a REASONABLE time? So much more can be done foe American's!

Posted by: LC in Texas | Jul 25, 2019 2:16:10 PM

@John Neff:

The prison population did not decline due to government halting prison construction. You have it backwards.

In the United States, they practice the medieval torture called Civil Death. A released convict is civilly dead when it comes to housing, job, dating, community. It was supposed to be punishment for the crime and then back to society, but there is no real route back to society when it is legal and common to discriminate based on one's past.

People being released "early" under this new Act were over-sentenced. In fact, most everyone in American prisons has been over-sentenced, a peculiarly American disease (though it is spreading to other countries). There is a movie starring William Macy which purports to be the true story of the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr. some decades ago. At the end of the film, it is revealed that the kidnappers were sentenced to 3 years. Some of plot lines in European films reveal sentences of 7 years for murder.

In the United States, the people being released have done time in prison. That is punishment. They have been punished.

It is well past time for the lengthy sentences created by legislatures to be declared UnConstitutional. They are all cruel and unusual punishments.

Posted by: restless94110 | Jul 28, 2019 8:03:04 AM

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