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Killers and Rapists, Rejoice!

| 10 Comments
One thing my father taught me was to thank God for your opponents.  As usual, he was right.

My opponents in the sentencing reform battle  --  those favoring mass sentencing reduction and the additional crime that is certain to come with it  --  have been shrewd up to now in being relatively quiet about the fact they they favor releasing killers, rapists and muggers of all sorts along with the fabled "low-level, non-violent" offender.

But, giddy (and careless) with new momentum as more and more Republicans allow themselves to be bull-rushed into sentencing "reform," the other side has prematurely tipped its hand.

It was never about just "low-level, non-violent" offenders; that was the head fake. It was about creating a new violent crime wave in America (something that is already happening as serious policing has come under attack and, in California, Prop 47's dumbing down of the criminal code has started to do its work).

Hat tip to Doug Berman for putting up two op-eds that spell it out.
There were a couple of lines in each that immediately stood out.  From the LA Times op-ed, I had to chuckle at this one (emphasis added):

[I]f the president and reformers hope to radically reduce the number of people in American prisons and address glaring disparities in criminal justice, focusing narrowly on nonviolent drug offenses won't get them very far...The truth is that prosecution for violent crimes, and not prosecution for drug possession and sales, is the primary engine of mass incarceration in this country....

Wow!  You could have fooled me.  From what I've been seeing in the last eight thousand or so sentencing reform advocacy pieces, the problem is that we've been filling the prisons with 19 year-old kids caught smoking a joint.

Guess not.

Conceptualizing nonviolent drug offenders as somehow qualitatively different from other offenders creates a false distinction. Many crimes labeled "violent" under our criminal codes are either directly motivated by drug addiction or directly related to drug sales or possession.

Translation:  If someone cracks your skull with a tire iron to get money for his next fix, this is not "qualitatively different" from merely hacking your checking account.

You learn something new on the Internet every day.

And if you're thinking this stuff must have been written by a UC Berkeley law professor, you're right.


The second op-ed, this one in the Washington Post, titles itself  --  in an exercise of unwise but admirable candor  -- "For true penal reform, focus on the violent offenders."

The quite revealing item here is the use of the word "focus."  It's not merely that an occasional strongarm or thug might get the benefit of sentencing "reform" here and there; it's that reform should focus on them.

Sentencing "reformers" have had this plan for a good long while, but now, anticipating legislative victory (or failing that, a Pardon Fest from a politically unaccountable President), have decided to be more honest about them.

I share their desire for more candor, which shows up in even greater measure in the Post piece.  Of particular note is this observation:

Now, to be clear, not all violent offenses are especially harmful...

This is certainly true if they happen to someone else.

...But a significant fraction of those in prison for violent crimes are there for serious violence: murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery. Moreover, many officially nonviolent inmates have histories of violence.

In other words, for all the talk about nonviolent offenders, a majority of our prisoners have been convicted of a violent act, and even more have some history of violence. And because no one thinks we should set every drug or other nonviolent offender free, at some point we are going to have to reduce the punishments that violent offenders face if we really want to cut our breath-taking prison population down to size.

The interesting thing is the author's definition of the problem, to wit, cutting the prison population "down to size" (whatever that means, which I'm guessing we find out post facto). If anyone thought the mission of the criminal justice system was to reduce crime rather than get the "prison population" (i.e., thugs) "down to size," well, boy, did we have you fooled!

We are not here to worry about the well-being of the 99.3% of the population who (not being convicted felons) are not in prison.  We're here to worry about, and to serve, the 0.7% who are.

Get you minds right, people.




10 Comments

Bill, don't you realize that reducing prison population increases public safety:

Here's the quote from Plata:

"The three-judge court credited substantial evidence that prison populations can be reduced in a manner that does not increase crime to a significant degree. Some evidence indicated that reducing overcrowding in California’s prisons could even improve public safety"

Once again, Mr. Otis, you are being a troglodyte. Our enlightened Supreme Court has spoken, Time to confess your sins.

My confession is invalid because you didn't give me my Miranda rights.

So there!

Ha ha.

In all seriousness, if we had a responsible legal culture, the statement about "evidence" supporting the idea that reducing overcrowding could be helpful to public safety would be pilloried. Even if overcrowding contributes to recidivism, it is plain that there is no evidence that the reduction in recidivism (which would have a long lag time in any event) would swamp the number of crimes committed by released criminals. That we have five members of a court, any court, willing to sign off on something with such an obvious flaw, is a sad testimony to our legal system.

There is an odd lese-majeste concept that seems to apply to liberal decisions.

Right now, Americans are being killed and otherwise victimized because of a ridiculous 5-4 decision, Zavydas v. Davis. The holding of that case, stripped to its essence, is that people who don't have the right to walk American streets have that right. Every Dem politician should be put on the spot about that one. And since Breyer and Ginsburg (part of the Zavydas majority) have shown themselves results-oriented, it's fair to question their bona fides on Zavydas and make the argument that there is blood on their hands.

I know most in here think such a characterization goes to far, but I don't. When one is arrogant enough to foist criminals on American society because of some high-minded notions of "fairness" rather than the obvious fact that the Constitution gives Americans the right, collectively, through their elected representatives and Executive, to keep alien criminals off the streets, then, in a sense, one owns the results. And "blood on their hands" is about as mild a statement as I can muster.

I recommend reading the US Sentencing Commission's study, "Recidivism Among Offenders Receiving Retroactive Sentence Reductions: The 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment." In it, you will find that crack cocaine offenders who received sentence reductions as a result of the commission's 2007 change in crack sentencing guidelines actually fared better in recidivism outcomes than those who did not. I also don't recall a massive nationwide crime spike in the years after 2007 or, for that matter, in the years after 2010, when Congress statutorily (and nearly unanimously) reduced crack penalties even further by passing the Fair Sentencing Act. As we all know, the opposite occurred (notwithstanding the entirely anecdotal "national crime wave" that you perceive happening now).

I assume you don't reference these outcomes because they are at odds with your time-honored trope (made yet again in this post) that sentencing reductions of any kind will result in crime increases. Always easier to deal in fear than to deal in facts, I suppose!

Couldn't agree more that recidivism rates are unacceptably high. But your older post suggests (absurdly) that it's not useful to compare recidivism rates before and after the Sentencing Commission's crack cocaine amendment went into effect. Of course it's useful. How else can one measure the outcome of any policy change? You yourself do it all the time as it relates to, say, California realignment: You focus on real or perceived changes in the crime rate, not on the fact that the underlying rate is historically low.

My original point stands: Your repeated claim is that if you reduce sentences, crime will go up. But the Sentencing Commission and Congress DID reduce sentences (in 2007 and 2010, respectively) and neither crime nor recidivism went up.

"Couldn't agree more that recidivism rates are unacceptably high."

So obviously the thing to do is release more criminals earlier!!!

"But your older post suggests (absurdly) that it's not useful to compare recidivism rates before and after the Sentencing Commission's crack cocaine amendment went into effect."

It suggests nothing of the kind. It does, however, conclusively show that I not only referenced, but discussed, the Sentencing Commission recidivism report, contrary to your false claim that I did not because I just "deal in fear."

"You focus on real or perceived changes in the crime rate, not on the fact that the underlying rate is historically low."

Tripe. I have time and again linked the real (not the perceived) crime rate (http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm), and I have said even more frequently that crime is historically low. It is precisely that achievement that is imperiled if the country now goes back to the failed incarceration policies of the Sixties and Seventies.

"My original point stands: Your repeated claim is that if you reduce sentences, crime will go up. But the Sentencing Commission and Congress DID reduce sentences (in 2007 and 2010, respectively) and neither crime nor recidivism went up."

Good grief. The USSC report itself says that the difference in crack recidivism rates pre- and -post FSA (and over much less than the five year period in the DOJ study -- a critical difference in length that you do not so much as acknowledge) was small if not practically inconsequential.

I also said explicitly, and months ago, that, because other significant crime reducing measures (e.g., more police) have continued in place, we would probably continue to see crime decrease overall, but at a slower rate as more and more criminals are released. And that is exactly what has happened.

http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2014/11/the-conversation-among-conserv.html

Do you really think that, with sky-high recidivism rates, the mass release of convicts will have no effect on crime?

Yes or no.

And -- to return to the subject of this entry, which you studiously avoid -- do you think a reduction in sentences should "focus on" violent criminals?

What kind of violent criminals would you include?

Would you exclude anyone?

Torture killers? Should they also get mass sentence reductions?

Child rapists?

Is everyone and anyone to be eligible for the grab bag?

1.) Nearly everyone in prison will get out someday anyway, and if the research shows that those who received sentence reductions actually fare BETTER than those who did not, then I prefer the better outcomes. But, hey, we can always just sentence everyone to life without parole, no matter the offense. It would certainly help bring down that recidivism rate! (Never mind the part about bankrupting the nation and ruining millions of lives.)

2) You certainly did suggest in your previous post that it was not very useful to compare the pre- and post-policy change groups of crack cocaine offenders. Your words: "The central question is not whether the pre- and post- recidivism rates are similar. The question is what are those rates?" I stand by my characterization of your post.

3) On the perceived crime rate, you regularly lend credence to talk of a "national crime wave" despite any reliable nationwide evidence to support that conclusion. More fear-mongering.

On historically low crime rates, you write, "It is precisely that achievement that is imperiled if the country now goes back to the failed incarceration policies of the Sixties and Seventies." Which legislative effort, exactly, is the one that takes us back to the '60s and '70s? I'm aware of a few bills to scale back (not eliminate) drug sentencing laws that were enacted in the late 1980s and after. That's about all I've seen, though. Please send me the link to the "Taking Us Back to the Failed Incarceration Policies of the 1960s and 1970s Act" if you've got it.

4) Re: the USSC report vs. the DOJ report: Both reports track recidivism outcomes for five years. See pg. 3 of the USSC report. I didn't acknowledge this "critical difference," as you call it, because it doesn't exist.

5) "I also said explicitly, and months ago, that, because other significant crime reducing measures (e.g., more police) have continued in place, we would probably continue to see crime decrease overall, but at a slower rate as more and more criminals are released." Or it could be that crime rates will eventually approach their nadir and that it's hard to keep going down year after year after year for the rest of time. An eventual uptick might just be the natural course of things, as many criminologists have pointed out. But I do not doubt that when that day comes, this blog will be the very first to attribute it to soft-on-crime policies.

As for your questions, sadly I do not support "mass sentence reductions" for "torture killers" and "child rapists" (more fear-mongering) and, again, I'm not aware of any such proposals. I personally don't think it's a good idea to reduce sentences for any violent offenders and disagree strongly with both op-eds you initially posted. My main point in responding to this entry was to push back against the factually tenuous assertion -- repeated here on a daily basis -- that any sentence reduction will result in more crime. It's just plain dishonest.

Won't any long-term benefit from a vanishingly small reduction in the recidivism rate be swamped by an increase in crime that wouldn't have happened but for the releases? In other words, aren't we failing to take into account the lessening of incapacitation?

Bill's common sense point seems right--we have high recidivism so why would letting people out early from such a pool be beneficial to public safety.

Bill's right about what's really going on here--the President and the soft-on-crime crowd are using misleading appeals to suggest that the criminal justice system is irretrievably racist and harsh. It's pernicious. And this isn't new from Obama. His comments on the Jena Six were harsher than those on the Duke lacrosse players. Remember, to score political points, Obama called the vicious six-on-one racially motivated attack on a white student a "schoolyard fight." That nasty dishonesty isn't isolated. And we're supposed to accept his criminal justice wisdom. Nope.

When you libs can deal with that, maybe we'll accept that you have something worthwhile to listen to. Pointing to a microscopic reduction in recidivism just doesn't get it done.

I eagerly await publication of my last comment. I hope the free exchange of ideas is permitted on this site and that we are not living in communist China!

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