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November 27, 2019

"The Politics of Decarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this new Yale Law Journal article by Rebecca Goldstein which reviews Rachel Barkow's book, "Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration." Here is the article's abstract:

In Prisoners of Politics, Rachel Barkow convincingly argues that the criminal-justice system is deeply broken: the United States’s incarceration rate is the highest in the world, and there is little evidence that this system, with all its devastating human and monetary costs, is contributing to improved public safety.  Prisoners of Politics argues that at the root of this broken system is electoral politics, and that elected officials (legislators, prosecutors, and judges) will tend toward punitiveness.  The book proposes a range of reforms, most notably the use of expert criminal-justice policymakers who would be insulated from the electoral process and devoted to ensuring that the system promotes public safety and avoids arbitrariness.  The introduction of expertise can certainly help make the criminal-justice system less punitive, and policymakers should heed the book’s detailed policy recommendations.

However, this Review argues that electoral politics are more likely than the book suggests to help bring about criminal-justice reform.  There is nothing inherent about electoral participation’s punitive influence.  To the contrary, we might be at the dawn of a new era of electorally motivated criminal-justice reform.  In the past decade, reform has become orthodoxy in the Democratic Party and has been embraced by significant parts of the Republican Party.  Recent grassroots mobilization and subnational elections provide hope that criminal-justice reformers can achieve significant gains through the electoral process.  Additionally, original public-opinion analysis shows that younger Americans are less punitive than their older counterparts, and evidence suggests that tomorrow’s electorate might be less punitive than the electorate of the late twentieth century.  For those reasons, this Review argues that electoral politics can offer a path forward for those who seek to end mass incarceration.

November 27, 2019 at 06:37 PM | Permalink


As long as you restore people's right to vote, and carry a gun in public for self-defense, and work with children, when they leave prison, you can give them as short a sentences as you want.

Posted by: Restoration Reform | Nov 27, 2019 8:49:48 PM


What would you think of allowing Governors to overturn convictions in the same way that the courts can.

Put differently, if someone is convicted, currently the Governor can choose to pardon them, to commute their sentence, or to do nothing. In general, there is no middle option.

My suggestion would give the Governor the right, if he were concerned about the fairness of a conviction, to overturn it, effectively giving everyone another shot.

I'm thinking this would be highly appropriate in cases where, since they conviction, strong doubt has developed about the defendant's guilt. If the prosecutors still think the person did it, let them prove it to a new jury, but let them also have to deal with whatever new information has come to light.

Examples include Adnan Syed, Daniel Holtzclaw, Steve Avery, Joey Watkins, and Barton McNeil.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Dec 1, 2019 6:53:38 AM

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