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.