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How Much Does Increased Incarceration Contribute to Decreased Crime?

| 23 Comments
No one doubts that the increased use of mandatory minimum sentencing laws has contributed, likely significantly, to the big increase in the prison population from 1990-2010 (it has dropped since then).

The next question crucial to our sentencing debate, then, is how much has increased incarceration contributed to the astonishing drop in crime over those 20 years (and astonishing is the right word, see this table showing that crime rates fell by nearly half).

Obviously, if increased incarceration accounts for only a small part of the falloff in crime, then the case for easing off on the use of prison becomes stronger. Conversely, if more prison has been a big driver of plummeting crime, the country justifiably will be more hesitant to go back to the softer policies that brought us the crime explosion in the quarter century before 1990.

This central question has been studied.  How much does increased incarceration contribute to the drop in crime?  What do the data say?
It turns out we have plenty of data and they say pretty much the same thing.

The most systematic study is here, in which Prof. Steve Levitt of Chicago finds, in a 2004 research paper, that increased incarceration accounted for 25% or perhaps more of the large decrease in crime in the Nineties, and noting that the "evidence linking increased punishment to lower crime rates is very strong."

Prof. William Spelman at Texas found the amount to be between 27% and 34%, see here.

Eminent UCLA criminologist Prof. James Q. Wilson took a look at the Levitt and Spelman conclusions and agreed with them in a 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal.

Finally, a well-regarded expert favorable to sentencing reform, John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation, acknowledged in his 2014 debate with Judge Michael Mukasey and me that increased incarceration may account for between 25% and 35% of the reduction in crime in the relevant period. See John's balanced presentation between 7:30 - 8:10 of the tape of his remarks.

So the consensus of neutral scholarship is that increased use of incarceration accounted for roughly 28% of the crime decrease that started at the dawn of the Nineties.and went on for the next 20 years (or more).

How many fewer crimes would that be, per year?

According to the Uniform Crime Reports linked earlier, there were 4,100,000 fewer serious crimes in the United States in 2010 than there had been in 1990. With 28% of that reduction being because of increased incarceration, then roughly 1,150,000 serious crimes DID NOT HAPPEN because we stepped up imprisonment. That would be one million one hundred fifty thousand.

Question for sentencing reduction fans: How many of that number do you propose to bring back? Who do you nominate to be the victims?

There were, 570,000 fewer violent offenses in the United States in 2010 than there had been in 1990. According to the consensus figure of 28%, then, about 160,000 violent offenses DID NOT HAPPEN because we stepped up imprisonment,

Question for sentencing reduction fans: How many violent crimes do you propose to bring back? Who do you nominate to be the victims?

There were 9000 fewer murders in the United States in 2010 than there had been in 1990. According to the consensus figure of 28%, then, about 2,520 murders DID NOT HAPPEN because we stepped up imprisonment,

Question for sentencing reduction fans: How many murders do you propose to bring back? Who do you nominate to be the victims?

There were 17,000 fewer rapes in the United States in 2010 than there had been in 1990. According to the consensus figure of 28%, then, about 4,760 rapes DID NOT HAPPEN because we stepped up imprisonment,

Question for sentencing reduction fans: How many rapes do you propose to bring back? Who do you nominate to be the victims?

23 Comments

Criminals don't do crimes for their health generally--they do it for a living. So when you lock up a criminal, you take someone off the streets who commits crimes as a livelihood. That prevents a ton of crime from the particular perp, and it likely reduces the likelihood that others will fall into that life.

You need to break down "criminals" into sub-categories: Sadistic criminals (who should receive capital punishment or, at a minimum, LWOP) do not, in the vast majority of cases, commit their crimes to make money. But many non-violent criminals (i.e., burglars, thieves, drug users, etc.) are motivated by money (to feed their drug and/or alchohol addiction -- addictions that, in many instances, have untreated mental illness at their root).

So, yes, I agree the more "criminals" (from any category) that you lock up for longer and longer terms of imprisonment the less crime they will be committing, at least in the world outside prison.

But is a lock 'em ALL up and throw away the key approach fair and reasonable without regard to the TYPE of "criminal" the offender is, even if it will reduce ALL crimes? I think not.

A better approach: Focus in on the individual perpetrator and determine, to the best of your ability, why he/she committed their particular crime. Then tailor the punishment to the facts at hand. If the motive was a sadistic desire to rape and murder a child or kill a cop, then let the punishment fit the crime AND the motive for the crime. But if the crime is "non-violent" and the motive was to get money to feed a drug addiction brought on by untreated mental illness, extended incarceration might not be the best, most reasonable, common-sense solution to ensuring that the "criminal" will not re-offend when he/she is (inevitably) released into civilized society.

I understand how mandatory minimums help guarantee uniformity in sentencing and remove discretion from the hands of judges who might be "soft on crime." But they do so at a cost -- a cost that might not make sense when one looks at a particular offender, their offense and their motivation.

A (second) better solution: Ensuring that judges (at both the state and federal level) have common sense and aren't left (or right) leaning wackos so that the sentences they mete out fit the criminal, his/her crime, and their motivation for violating the law. (Good luck with that solution.)

When it comes to criminal justice reform, I am in the "shades of gray" category and not a fan of "black and white" soulutions. Mandatory minimums appear to fit into the later category.

P.S. federalist, you can now go ahead and rip apart me and my opinion :)

Bill, you stress the Levitt paper which is focused only on the 1990s, a time with a huge uptick in the national prison population (going from about 770,000 in 1990 to nearly 1,400,000 in 2000). That this huge (and expensive) surge contributed only to a 25% of the crime decline and that crime kept going down throughout the next 15 years even as incarceration rates largely leveled off suggests that there may be more cost-effective ways to deal with certain crime problems than imprisoning more and more Americans for more and more offenses.

Moreover, given that a large percentage of serious criminals have dropped out of high school and have mental health and/or substance abuse problems, a strong argument can be made that investments in education and health care might get us a lot more bang for our crime-reduction buck.

Finally, the crime many criminals do "for a living" involves drugs (and involved alcohol a century ago). Locking up a low-level drug dealer drives up the cost of the drug, which in turn makes drug dealing a more attractive prospect for other low-level dealers. And, critically, most FEDERAL mandatory minimum statutes --- which are the ones that sentencing reformers are most eager to see cut --- involve low-level drug crimes. (And, of course, your stats do not deal with drug crimes, which have not gone down dramatically despite the federal system incarcerating more drug offenders in the federal system than any state system.) And, speaking of federal drug crimes, what should we make of the millions of federal drug offenses going on each month in full legalization states like CO and OR and WA?

I do not speak for all sentencing reduction fans, but I think the sophisticated questions that can follow-up your data/questions would be:

Especially given the high economic costs of imprisonment (and seemingly limited return), shouldn't we always be eagerly looking for ways to achieve less crime with less imprisonment? And since more federal imprisonment of lower-level drug offenders has not helped us achieve less drug crime, isn't reduction of the amount of federal imprisonment of lower-level drug offenders a sensible place to start?

Paul writes:

But is a lock 'em ALL up and throw away the key approach fair and reasonable without regard to the TYPE of "criminal" the offender is, even if it will reduce ALL crimes? I think not.

I think not also. Who does? Bill's post does not advocate such an approach. Who are you arguing with?

Very quickly for now, and not attempting to be systematic:

-- I know, I know. Everybody's sick, nobody's greedy. Could we please stop with this cookie-cutter excuse-making?

-- The idea that Jack Weinstein & Co. either care or know how to distinguish between "low level" criminals and everyone else is ridiculous. They don't know OR care.

-- Even if they did, they would be intentionally misled by sleazy creeps like Wendell Callahan's lawyer, whom Doug has excused (if not praised) as merely "pushing the envelope of truth" for his wonderful client.

-- The term "non-violent" gets tossed around like it means "non-harmful," which is wrong to the point of being absurd, not to mention dangerous. Fully non-violent heroin sales wind up killing thousands of people each year (and rising) -- all against the cultural backdrop of "drugs are medicinal!!!" Fully non-violent swindles deprive thousands of gullible/older people of their money. But, hey, look, no big deal.

-- Not only is there no fixed definition of "low-level;" if there were, it wouldn't stay fixed for long. The centrifugal force of defense lawyering is going to keep pushing that out, isn't it?

-- Indeed, it's already happening. John Pfaff, one of the more candid sentencing reformers, has admitted (indeed he advertises) that this "low-level" stuff is just the appetizer. The main dish is moving on to the release of violent criminals -- not because their behavior will have changed, but because we'll fool the public by changing the NAME of the behavior to something people won't understand (until it's too late).

-- Sorry. I wasn't born yesterday. I know how this goes. Just as in the Sixties and Seventies, sentencing "reformers" want less prison for ideological reasons, period. They're perfectly willing to take risks with public safety, as long as they know -- which they do -- that it's only other people, the ones filling up the lower classes, who are going to have to bear them.

-- Then they preen as "humanitarians."

I think paul has next to no experience with federal sentencing. If he did, he'd know that it's extremely nuanced for the huge majority of cases. Maybe I should send him a Sentencing Guidelines Manual, which, last time I looked, ran to hundreds of pages.

The suggestion that there are easily identifiable categories of offenders who can be reliably defined as non-violent is false.

Last December we reported on new data released by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) indicating that property offenders released from prison are rearrested for committing violent crimes nearly at the same rate as violent criminals.

Supplemental BJS data on recidivism for inmates released from prison in 2005 shows that 28.5% of property offenders, such as burglars and car thieves, were rearrested for a violent crime within five years. This figure is only slightly lower than the 33.1% of violent offenders released the same year who were rearrested for violent crimes within five years.

An earlier BJS report, released in 2002, tracked the three-year recividism of nonviolent property offenders released nationally in 1994. Among the 91,061 property offenders released, 21.9% were rearrested for violent crimes, including 726 murders, 637 rapes, 5,735 robberies, and 12,475 assaults. Interestingly, car thieves, which represented just over 10% of all the offenders released, were rearrested for committing more than 1/3 of the murders and a disproportionate number of other violent crimes. This suggests that property offenders, who would qualify as "non-violent" offenders in sentencing reduction plans, are likely to cause a significant increase in violent crime. Most of the plans we have seen decrease or eliminate parole supervision of these “low risk” criminals. This increases the likelihood that an even larger percentage of felons than those tracked in the BJS study will commit violent crimes.

Douglas stated: "That this huge (and expensive) surge contributed only to a 25% of the crime decline and that crime kept going down throughout the next 15 years even as incarceration rates largely leveled off suggests that there may be more cost-effective ways to deal with certain crime problems than imprisoning more and more Americans for more and more offenses."

1) "Only?" Comments like this are a look behind the veil, a "tell" if you will. If increased incarceration had been associated with a 25% INCREASE in crime, you would not even think of using that word. And if Bill used it to describe the increase, you would slaughter him for it.

And your reference to "expensive" is just unseemly. Perhaps I just value human life more than you.

2) An increase in incarceration can have a positive impact on the crime rate for decades. It is not a 1:1 ratio. Putting one dirtbag behind bars does not necessarily stop only one crime. It can stop a crime next year, 3 years from now, 15 years from now, and perhaps all of them as a criminal can act criminally an unlimited amount of times.

3) You are trying to thread a needle that just cannot be threaded. It would be great if we had a crystal ball to see who will react best to other means of punishment/rehab and who is going to re-offend. The hitch is that there is no crystal ball nor will there ever be. Your decision will cost thousands (2500+ per year by Bill's stats) of people their lives every year. More lives will be ruined by the "lesser" crimes of rape, violent assault, etc. It is not an "if." It is a "fact."

I am more than willing to let people who did something to deserve incarceration stay there longer and shoulder the consequence of uncertainty regarding who is and is not safe to release. Like it or not, you want innocents to bear that consequence.

A question, which I believe Bill has asked in different forms many times.

Since you are all about "Return on Investment", how many lives need to be saved annually before the extra expense of incarceration is warranted? Where does the ROI begin to make sense to you? Would a return of 5000 lives saved do it? 10,000?

You mask slips, Bill, through some of your comments here. First, your comment to paul highlights why the JSVA makes sense to enable a judge to use the "extremely nuanced" sentencing guidelines in all cases rather than have them trumped by crude mandatory minimums in many drug cases. But elsewhere you have called the JSVA radical, perhaps because what is really radical to you is taking certain sentencing powers away from prosecutors to let them be exercised by judges. You would support the JSVA if you really wanted nuanced sentencing --- but you seemingly do not because you obviously do not trust federal judges to do their jobs as you would like them to. Judges are apparently rubes and dupes subject to the manipulation of "sleazy creeps" representing the rights of criminal defendants.

It is fine to say your support for crude and severe sentencing is driven by your distrust of and disrespect for the work of judges and others involved in our criminal justice system. But be honest and direct, it helps highlight that what largely drives smart people to advocate for mandatory minimums is a fundamental distrust of and disrespect for the work of judges and others involved in our criminal justice system.

I fear that too many defense attorneys and reform advocates have a deep distrust of and disrespect for the work of prosecutors and others involved in our law enforcement system. I think that is a shame and distorts harmfully the opportunity to build consensus toward means to achieve less crime and less imprisonment. I am thus always saddened to see the eagerness with which you, Bill, showcase the other side of that coin as a former prosecutor full of distrust and disrespect for the work of judges and others involved in our criminal justice system.

I do not expect debates over criminal justice to avoid entirely the usual partisan posturing, but I still believe there can be consensus interest in, and workings toward, achieving less crime and less imprisonment. But perhaps even here it is ideology uber alles for all involved.

Since Doug is all about the finances, let's look at some.

What is the economic cost in dollars for a family losing the income of a murdered bread winner?

What is the economic cost in dollars for a family in increased childcare costs because the other parent has to go to work or work more to make more?

What are the costs of society having to pick up the tab for food stamps, other welfare benefits, or to train the spouse because the breadwinner was lost?

What are the costs of counseling, lost future earned wages, or even incarceration for each child because the kids developed dysfunctions of their own as the result of the scars of losing a parent? (Single parenthood is a far better indicator of childhood-and future-poverty than race)

What is the economic cost to the company that lost a trained employee and now has to recruit and retrain another?

This is just a START to the economic cost of crime. Until you answer these questions, and more, you have little ground to discuss how expensive incarceration is.

..." and workings toward, achieving less crime and less imprisonment."

This silliness reminded me of Obamacare, when Obama said we would get "more healthcare", "better healthcare", and it would be "cheaper."

Anyone who slept through one day of economics class knew it was impossible.

You cannot give people more healthcare, make it better, and have it cheaper. Just as you cannot have more criminals on the street and have less crime.

1. Michael, I think all your data involves persons released from prison. I would love to see comparisons to similar property offender never sent to prison. There is considerable empirical support for the notion of prison being criminogenic, especially for certain types of offenders and when subject to certain types of prison conditions. Your data further leads me to worry that sending certain non-violent folks to prison may increase the likelihood of subsequent violent offending.

My point, Michael, is not to dispute your data or your astute discussion of the challenge of sorting offenders by the contestable label "non-violent." But given the depressingly high rates of recidivism for so many offenders released from prison, it is not unreasonable for some reform advocates to suggest we may reduce recidivism and thus crime by using prison more sparingly.

2. tarls, fair criticism on my use of the term "only" but I am not sure what other word you wanted me to use there. In any event, on the day Trump has released a budget and we howling about how people will be hurt by cuts in the safety net, I will remember your line and assume critics must "just value human life more than" Trump.

And my prison/recidivism point is the flip of your correct point about the potential incapacitation benefits of long terms of imprisonment. Execute or give decades to offenders likely to repeat and we likely get crime saving. But give shorter prison stays to offenders not likely to repeat, and you may get additional crime costs.

I like the ROI question, but it has to include opportunity costs/services etc and also issues relating to the values of freedom. We likely could drive down homicides and other crimes dramatically by bringing back the draft and having forced conscription for all men in the 20s who do not have jobs or are in school. Not sure if we would want that, but the point is that other value come into play. And speaking of other values, I largely agree with your statement that "people who did something to deserve incarceration stay there longer and shoulder the consequence of uncertainty regarding who is and is not safe to release." But my values says that somebody who sells a small quantity of drugs to a willing purchaser to feel their own habit is not deserving of a long stay in prison. And same goes for a drug driver even though they pose a bigger safety threat --- because there are alternatives with a better ROI in these cases (HOPE programs for the druggie, ignition auto-locks for the drunk driver).

I agree this is very hard and mistakes will be made and that mistakes should be made on the backs of the guilty before made on the backs of the innocent. But I also think we can continue to improve a system based on new information and data, and part of that data is that the only people who really argue for mandatory minimums are the govt agents (prosecutors) whose job gets made easier and who never really has to worry about ROI.

tarls, your last comment suggests you have decided there is a zero sum game between imprisonment and crime. If this is really your view, why are you not aggressively advocating for A LOT more incarceration. As Bill has stressed, we have less than 1% of the US population incarcerated --- would you like to see this doubled to 2% or go even up to 5%? By your logic, isn't this the best way to continue to drive crime down and get all the economic benefits you suggest? Is there ever a tipping point or stopping point if this is a zero sum game? And that is my main concern with your rhetoric and Bill's numbers --- it would seem to be the key to expanding punishment and government endlessly in the name of public safety/interest.

Also, note that many of the costs you highlight to the family and society are also imposed when a bread winner is incarcerated for a very long time. My guess is that less than 5,000 of the 16000 murdered annually in the US are bread-winners, but that a much larger number of the 500,000 sent to prison are bread-winners.

I say all this not to dispute your reasonable points and concerns, but rather to highlight (like health care reform) that nothing is so simple as to be resolvable via sound-bites or by assuming the government is likely always to use its powers efficiently and effectively for the benefit of all.

"...you obviously do not trust federal judges to do their jobs as you would like them to."

I don't trust them to sentence within the law in a way that protects the public. Were judges doing that when crime was spiraling (up 400%) in the three decades after 1960?

Were they?

Do you think the bi-partisan SRA of 1984, which massively curtailed judicial discretion, was just mean-spirited? Nazis under every chair? Or was there a problem that had been building up for years in sentencing -- a problem that foolish and ideological judges were making worse?

"Judges are apparently rubes and dupes subject to the manipulation of 'sleazy creeps' representing the rights of criminal defendants."

I had previously been unaware the it was a constitutional right to deceive the court -- to say that your client presented no danger to the public when his extensive, violent past showed this was flagrantly false?

And I see that the two little girls this thug sliced to death remain unmentioned and out of sight. As ever, crime victims remain human garbage to the defense bar.

Of course, I might have to take that back if the defense lawyer had expressed even slight regret about the girls' murder. Did he? Where was that?

The truth is he could care less. We both know it.

Judges hardly need to be rubes and dupes in order, like other human beings, to operate better with rules and limits than without them.

Judges should and do have considerable discretion a good deal of the time. They should not have 100% discretion 100% of the time. That is what mandatory minimums (and mandatory maximums, while we're at it) are about.


"I would love to see comparisons to similar property offender never sent to prison. There is considerable empirical support for the notion of prison being criminogenic, especially for certain types of offenders and when subject to certain types of prison conditions. Your data further leads me to worry that sending certain non-violent folks to prison may increase the likelihood of subsequent violent offending."

Between 1965 and 1990, California reduced it's incarceration rate by about 66%. The offenders who were spared from prison were the same so called low level, low risk, or non violent offenders that reformists are insisting be released today. Over that period violent crime in California increased by over 300%. Now, experts tell us that this was due to the baby boom, or the Vietnam war, or the Civil Rights movement, and I'm sure that these factors did have some influence. But what serial murderers like Charley Manson, William Bonin, Kenneth Bianchi, and a dozen other infamous California serial killers of the 70s and 80s had in common is that they were all repeat offenders who were left on the streets by California's compassionate sentencing. None of them were much involved with civil rights or Vietnam but they were boomers in their crime prone years. Did compassionate sentencing help them, or keep them free long enough for them to become murderers?

If the present and past law enforcement/victim's rights signatories in the linked documents (including the esteemed Paul Cassell) can distinguish between "low-level, nonviolent" criminals and their "high-level, violent" counterparts in the context of mandatory minimum sentencing (MMS), and only subject the later to MMS, that's good enough for me.

http://www.lawenforcementleaders.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Law-Enforcement-Letters-for-Sentencing-Legislation.pdf

If you weren't so naive, you would understand that this is not the goal. The goal is to put an end to MM's for everyone all the time. This is just the start.

How many Wendell Callahan child murder episodes are you willing to tolerate on the gamble that we can, or will even try very hard, to give breaks only to "low level" criminals?

That calls for a number, not an essay.

How many?

It's silly to cite extreme examples in your fight against any MM reform. But if that's what you want, I am sure Paul Cassell would cite the case of Weldon Angelos as supporting MM reform for "low level" offenders.

I also don't believe that the "goal" of the Law Enforcement Leaders (cited above) is to abolish "MM's for everyone all the time." Just as people, such as myself, who believe that the DP should be reserved for the so-called "worst-of-the-worst," don't want it abolished for every murderer.

But I know you have a lot invested in this issue. So I apologize if I offended you by my (naive) comments.

Bill, the SRA was a great advancement in sentencing policy and practice because it brought more transparent and thoughtful and "nuanced" sentencing decision-making. Many federal MMs, especially when triggered by only drug quantities or when the same conduct does or does not trigger an MM as with downloading CP, are the antithesis of transparent and thoughtful and "nuanced" sentencing decision-making.

As we have discussed before, MMs operate to create a system based, functionally, on the rule of prosecutors rather than the rule of law --- which is, of course, why it mattered so much that Holder pulled back on prosecutorial toughness and that Sessions is moving in the other direction. Notably, the pre-SRA period's main flaw, as Judge Frankel highlights, was that we had rule by judges without any sentencing law. The SRA gave us nuanced sentencing law, and nearly everyone other than prosecutors --- including every appointee of the US Sentencing Commission and the late Chief Justice Rehnquist --- has advocated for the SRA approach to sentencing over the MM approach.

Michael, I appreciate your response to my question, but it is the modern crowded prison that I fear is criminogenic and you note so many of the forces that may have contributed to crime increases in the 1970s and 1980s. But I fully understand your concerns about the killer who perhaps could have been stopped if we treated them toughly at the outset. This is like the Callahan case that Bill so often stresses. But how do we balance these concerns with the fact we cannot and should not imprison every property or drug offender for decades? And what about the tens of thousands of federal drug offenders who got reduced sentences and returned to their families without becoming violent offenders?

I will close again seeking a kind of consensus by wondering aloud whether folks here think there can and should be bipartisan efforts --- in Congress and in states and localities --- to look for and pursue means to achieve less crime with less imprisonment. I perceive Tarls believes such a mission is a kind of impossible fool's errand, but I think less crime and less imprisonment is a possibility. But maybe, like Paul, this view makes me naive.

Somehow I just knew you'd refuse to give a number.

Sorry, I will not be buying the "reform" package unless I know its full cost, which is certain to include more Callahans.

In this, I am hardly an ideologue. No sane person buys ANYTHING important unless he knows its full cost. Your motive in refusing me this information is inconsequential, but the the refusal isn't. If I don't have the information about price, you will not be making the sale.

P.S. You are indeed naive, but not as naive as you pretend.

As you know, I like and respect you. If I didn't, I wouldn't spend anything like the time I do debating you.

Consensus is not what I seek. I want to figure things out right, and most of all, I want successful solutions for the peace and safety of our people.

More imprisonment works. This is not really debatable. We have a generation of massively lower crime to prove it. So I'm staying with what works rather than gamble on going back to what sure looks like a gussied-up version of stuff we know fails.

Judges did a rotten job with their imperial discretion, so it got cut down in the SRA. Like Kent, I would settle for fewer mandatory minimum statutes IF we had rigorously mandatory guidelines. Since we don't, MM's are a legal and effective alternative. The real reason the SRCA didn't get through Congress, and the JSVA won't either, is that a majority knows this.

Yes, it's expensive. So is crime (and the expenses generated by crime tend to get shifted to those who cannot bear them nearly as well as the government can bear the costs of incarceration).

But I'm willing to pay for stuff that works to help achieve one of the core constitutional functions of government -- safety.

For similar reasons, I'm willing to pay more for rehab. Its actual record is not nearly as promising as incarceration, but it has some degree of hope, and they're still human beings.

I'm also willing to pay for vocational education, for the same reasons. Ditto for counseling, for those who genuinely need it rather than are just faking (which happens a lot, as I'm sure you know).

And as I've always said, I'm willing to pay more for indigent defense, notwithstanding that I have doubts about the ethics of defense. High quality HONEST defense lawyers cost money, and justice ain't cheap. Those are just the realities.

Bottom line: We know what works and we know what fails. What works has the ancillary consequence of imposing hardships on criminals, sure. The answer is not for us to go back to failure. The answer is for them to make better choices.

paul, it never ceases to amaze--I write a few sentences about the fact that criminals do what criminals do, and there's a long response about what I "need" to do.

I am not going to go into a ton of detail taking apart your chef d'oeuvre, other than to note a few things:

(1) right-wing "wackos" aren't really an issue on the bench when it comes to sentencing--judges like Olu Stevens are.

(2) You give away the game when you say that the solution is to have reasonable judges doing reasonable judging--well, the reason we have mandatory minimums is that judges generally cannot be trusted.

(3) You lump in burglaries in the non-violent category--that's true, I guess, but the fact is that the sheer inconsiderateness of the rights of others that comes from what burglars do is indicative of a serious criminal bent. That's what we call sophistry.

The reason I "rip you apart" is embodied in your "right-wing wackos" comment. You seem to have this view that people like Obama (Musa Ali Daqduq, "Latinos will punish their enemies" or the "it was a video" tall tale) are somehow far less deserving of your judgment than people like Sarah Palin--and that's fine if you're on that side of the aisle, but if you are, you are certainly coy about it. The fact is that "right-wing wackos" on the bench are few and far between, but you just have to throw them in for some idea of balance, I guess (I don't confess to be a mind-reader.) Or to show that you're not one of those "crazies."

It's an off-putting conceit, and it permeates pretty much everything you write.

And I'll note that you never conceded defeat on the Quarles debate we had a while back.

Just one last comment, Bill, driven by the need to be careful and particularized on what the data shows. You say "More imprisonment works," and I will not dispute that imprisonment works to incapacitate offenders and that has contributed to reductions in violent crime. But the recidivism numbers you frequently stress and the historic reality that rehab and training and funding for other programming goes down as prisons get crowded and costs go up suggest that this part of government is plainly not efficient and may not be as effective as you want to believe. (When you say massive govt investment in prison worked, I hear echoes of lefty scholars who are quick to say the New Deal worked to justify future decades of govt growth.)

Moreover, it is not at all clear that imprisonment "works" to drive down drug crimes and drug abuse (and associated violence). Indeed, history tells a much different story in this arena as ending alcohol Prohibition is what actually "worked" to drive down violent crime. It is that lesson that draws me toward marijuana reform (and Portugal's seemingly successful decriminalization approach) at this moment in our history. And I genuinely think that if the drug war was no longer a flash-point for partisan battles over crime and punishment, we could work together more effectively and efficiently to fund all the government programming you support and want taxpayers to fund in the name of safety.

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