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Q: Where Do the Ideas Behind Sentencing Reform Lead?

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A:  To the morgue.

And what are the ideas behind sentencing reform?  We know them pretty well by now:  That we should be readier to give second chances, that youthful offenders in particular need understanding, that we must resist the impulse to incarcerate, that racial bias pervades the system, and that opportunities for education and community involvement are better than warehousing people.

See if you can spot any of those ideas in this story, described in more detail after the break.  Then see if you can figure out why the jurisdiction involved is one of the most dangerous and miserable cities in America.
Here's how the story from the Baltimore Sun starts (emphasis added):
For the third time in a month, 18-year-old Curtis Deal had been arrested on gun or drug charges. Judge Nicole Taylor wanted to be sure the young man understood what was expected if she released him to wait for trial.

"You're not going out at night, you're not going to get food, you're not going to meet your girlfriend. You're in your house," Taylor told him at Monday's bail review hearing, raising her voice.
It's good she raises her voice, because then we know she's serious.

"I'm giving you an opportunity to go to school and not be in jail pending this trial. The curfew is 1 p.m., 7 days a week."

Deal said he understood. Taylor wished him luck.
It's important that judges wish luck to the fellow who commits a felony every week.

The next day about 3 p.m., Deal was fatally shot by a Baltimore police detective after allegedly jumping out of a vehicle being tailed by officers and fleeing through the same neighborhood where he'd been arrested the week before. Police said the detective chasing Deal shot him because he feared for his own life. The officer's body camera captured Deal pointing his gun at the detective just before the shooting.

Almost immediately, the circumstances of Deal's release became a flash point in the growing debate in Baltimore over perceived leniency for repeat gun offenders.
You gotta love the word "perceived."

"It shows dysfunction, I believe, in our criminal justice system," said Mayor Catherine Pugh. "People who have those many gun charges probably should not be on our streets."
But you can't love the word "perceived" as much as the word "probably."

There's an old saying that, at some point, tragedy becomes farce, but this episode is not really either.  It's ennui  --  the same old stuff we've heard before from the city that wanted to give arsonists "space to destroy," then filed a bunch of charges against six police officers  --  to convict not a single one on any of them.  

Not that conviction was really the point.  Intimidating the police through a grandstanding, ideologically-driven prosecution was the point, and the point was made.

Not that it's a Baltimore problem in particular, either.  It's just that Baltimore seems to have been more eager (and more "successful") than average in putting into action the central notions of sentencing reform and, more broadly, the movement for greater leniency:  That the problem is not crime, the problem is our reaction to crime.  That it's not the defendant's greed or malice, it's his "mistake." That anti-social behavior is not perverse; incarceration to incapacitate and deter that behavior is perverse.

This time, it was the criminal himself who went to the morgue.  It could just as easily have been the officer (as it would have been had he hesitated).  Or a bystander.

Increasingly, it's all of them.  The number of homicide victims has seen a significant rise in the last two years, as sentencing reformers crow about their "achievements" in changing state (if not federal) law over exactly the same period.

Still, hey, look, if the prison population goes down, it's all to the good  -- even if the morgue population goes up.

3 Comments

Another conceit of the mass incarceration crowd exposed: i.e. that sanctions like curfews, home detention, and even electronic monitoring provide even a scintilla of protection for the community.

Columbus, Ohio brings us another sad example of the failure of lenience to violent criminals. An OSU student was murdered by a guy who spent a scant 5 years in prison for a kidnap/rape/robbery.

Why do we have to keep fighting the same battles against the "be nice to criminals" crowd? And why isn't that crowd ever held accountable for its fashionable evil?

In the mind of the sentencing reform crowd, this is acceptable collateral damage in their noble war against the use of incarceration.

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