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The Crime Wave Begins on Schedule

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As noted in yesterday's News Scan, the retroactive application of lighter sentences for those convicted of crack cocaine offenses began on November 1, with an intitial release of about 1800 crack offenders.  The New York Times carried an accurate and reasonably balanced story about it.  The story quotes yours truly as a dissenting voice. 

The numbers are daunting.  The Sentencing Commission has said that it expects 12,000 offenders will be eligible for release, and that the average amount of time to be deducted from their sentences will be slightly more than three years.  In other words, we could easily wind up with 36,000 more man-years of these offenders on the street  --  whereas, if the old law had been left in place, they'd be in jail.  The average recidivism rate for crack is 30% or perhaps very slightly higher. 

If my math is correct, that means that we'll have roughly 10,800 more future crack offenses coming up, and soon, than if the prior law had been left undisturbed.  This is no small matter.  The association between crack and gunplay is all too well documented, and, with gunplay or wihout, the drug is highly addictive and first class bad news.
 
My question is:  Why, when we hear in such specifics about the alleged benefits of the forthcoming releases, do we not also and simultaneously hear about the additional crime to which they will almost surely lead?  My other question is:  If the public had been told loudly and up front that there would likely be 10,000 more crack crimes with the new regime, would that regime have come about at all?  Or on such a scale?
  
One needn't be a partisan of one side or the other to be convinced that if we're going to be told about the benefits of X, we ought to be told with equal clarity and volume about its drawbacks.  This is as true about the crack releases that begn yesterday as it is about anything else.

2 Comments

I'm conflicted here. While I continue to believe that crack offenses are more damaging to society and crack offenders more dangerous than their powder cocaine counterparts, I have long thought that the 100 to 1 ratio overstated the danger.

Having said that, Bill is right to focus on the inevitable increase in crime that will result from this experiment in "social justice." Correct me if I am wrong but I believe the projected recidivism rate refers to all types of crime and not exclusively new crack offenses. Regardless, progressives conveniently forget that the enhanced crack penalties were instituted in response to activists concerns that the crack epidemic of the 80's was destroying black communities.

mjs,

Years ago, I was backing a proposal by then Sen. (and later Secretary) Spence Abraham that would have more nearly equalized crack and powder by somewhat raising the powder sentences and somewhat lowering crack sentences. But I couldn't get anyone on the defense side on board because they absolutely would not agree to any sentence increase. This showed me what I already suspected: For them, it wasn't about equalization; it was what it's always about, lower sentences one way or the other.

I think the 30% figure is just for crack recidivism. Oddly, and depressingly, the recidivism rate generally is roughly twice that.

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