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Opinion Research Corporation, polling Nov. 19 - 22, asked a sample of 1008 adults the following:  "Thinking about the criminal justice system, which comes closer to your view  --  that we have too many drug traffickers in prison for too long, or that we don't do enough to keep drug traffickers off the street?"

The result was not close:  58% said we're not doing enough to keep traffickers off the street, while only half that number, 30%, said we have too many traffickers in prison for too long.

The poll is devastating to the sentencing "reform" bills now pending in Congress. Those bills would reduce sentences for drug convictions (the Senate bill would do so retroactively as well), and the overwhelming majority of prison sentences imposed for federal drug offenses are for trafficking, not mere possession or use.

In other words, the American public, by a bigger margin than in any Presidential election in history, wants more done to keep traffickers off the street, not more done to put them back there.

Memo to Congress:  Wake up.

The Shell Game on the Federal Prison Population

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On Wednesday, the pretend-neutral but actually hard Left Pew Charitable Trusts put out a study titled, "Prison Time Surges for Federal Inmates."  

I did a double take when I saw this, because I know for a fact that the federal prison population is in decline and has been declining for at least the last 24 months (I think it's actually 30 months, but I'm not sure).  I don't know anyone who even disputes this.  So I asked myself what is going on with Pew.

This is what is going on:  The study slams the door at the end of 2012.  The most plausible reason I can think of that Pew headlines with the present tense  --  claiming that prison time "surges"  --  is that its report was timed to coincide with the House Judiciary Committee's approval of the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015.  One of the most important reasons urged in support of that bill is that the prison population, and hence prison costs, are out of control.

It would undermine that rationale for Pew to issue a report titled, "Federal Prison Population Decline Continues," although that would more nearly capture the truth of the matter.

Bottom line:  The Pew report has about the same degree of trustworthiness as Linda Greenhouse's claim that the country has embraced a "widespread de facto moratorium" on executions, when, this year, we have had one every 13 days. 

Who's Getting Out of Prison Early?

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Congress is currently considering legislation that would provide lower sentences and early release to thousand of federal felons. There are many questions to be asked about this proposal.  One of the most important is whether we'll learn anything from California's experience  --  California having, in the last few years, given early release to more prisoners than all the other states combined.

This came about for two reasons.  First was the Plata decision and Gov. Brown's congruent "realignment" program.  Second was Prop 47, which has been in place for a year, and whose poor results have been chronicled in more C&C entries than I can catalog (even while being predictably pooh-poohed by the NYT). 

A central part of the advocacy for both California's release plan and the one being considered by Congress is the firm promise that those released early will be "low level, low risk" offenders.

Do you believe that?  Do you believe that the people in government who  -- sentencing reform advocates insist  --  have spent decades making error-filled decisions about whom to imprison and for how long will now make spot-on decisions about whom to release and how early?

Steve Hayward on PowerLine has some disturbing news for the gullible.
This is one reason.  It is not the main reason or close to it, in my view.  At the same time, anyone with experience in criminal litigation knows that judges vary widely in temperament, ideology, outlook and background, and that even the same judge can vary markedly from one day to the next depending, for example, on whether he had a fight with his wife that morning.

The principal reason Congress cut back on the previously almost unlimited sentencing discretion of judges in the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 is simple:  It didn't work.  It produced wide and irrational disparity, and it had meandered hither and yon for 25 years while crime exploded. The public demanded something better and Congress complied, with (so far as crime rate statistics suggest) excellent results.

Judges, by the nature of the business, must have a good deal of sentencing discretion a good deal of the time. Under our present system, they do.  But judges are human beings, and human beings operate better with rules than without them. The news report with which I led off this entry is an extreme example of this fact, but a fact it is, in extreme cases and in more typical ones.
Congress, by far the least trusted of public institutions, is about to test how oblivious it can be to amply justified public alarm.

A new Washington Post story is grim, but might conceivably get our legislators to wake up:

Crime has become the biggest problem in Washington, D.C. residents say, far surpassing concerns about the economy and the quality of public schools for the first time in almost a decade, according to a new Washington Post poll.

After a year in which homicides have spiked, fewer D.C. residents said their neighborhood is safe, the poll found. Following high-profile attacks that have rattled neighborhoods from Chevy Chase in upper Northwest to Anacostia in Southeast, 1 in 4 respondents said they feel "not too" or "not at all" safe in their communities, up from less than 1 in 5 in 2011. More than 1 in 3 said crime is the biggest problem facing the city, up from 12 percent four years ago.

The concern comes as the nation's cities have seen homicide rates reverse after more than two decades of steady declines.

This same thing is happening from coast to coast.  For the first time in a generation, crime is spiking.  So here's the bottom line question:  Is this the moment Congress will choose to go easier on those  --  largely drug pushers  --  doing the spiking?  Is Congress really that obtuse?  That uncaring?  That hoodwinked or bullied by billionaire money pushing the Obama/Sharpton "America-is-too-mean" agenda?

As Congress considers the SRCA, we may soon find out.

Briefing at the Senate on Sentencing "Reform"

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A week ago, at a Federalist Society function at the Senate Visitors Center, I had the opportunity to brief the audience  --  including, I think, quite a number of Senators' staffers  --  on the proposed sentencing "reform" bill that was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The briefing took the form of a debate, with three panelists favoring the bill and three opposed.  The debate was not recorded, so unfortunately I cannot reproduce it here.

I did, however, write out my opening statement, which I set forth below.  One point I made near the end, which I want to emphasize here, is that those of my Republican friends who think passing this bill will be politically advantageous are making a big mistake.

In Washington, DC, and around the country, we are in the midst of a murder spree and a heroin epidemic of the kind we have not seen in decades.  Republicans control both the House and Senate, and if they pass a bill taking it easier on federal felons  -- which is, for practical purposes, all this bill is about  --  they should, and they will, pay the price at the polls.

Once again, Obama has fleeced many members of what is sometimes called the Stupid Party into carrying water for his pro-criminal agenda.  If Republicans persist in this foolhardy enterprise, they will have done more than usual to earn the name.
I have criticized media "fact-checker" columns from time-to-time, as they occasionally show political bias and a loose association with the truth themselves.  WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler gets it right this time, though, with four statements by President Obama and candidates Carly Fiorina, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton. 

But the statements ... also reflect a basic misunderstanding of the data on prison populations. We've listed the statements in order, from the least egregious to the most outlandish, to demonstrate how -- almost like a game of telephone -- the facts get increasingly unmoored from the actual data. It's a complex issue, which leads itself to facile explanations.
A:  When, in an article in Politico, the other side is quoted giving an answer like this (emphasis added):

[W]hile the [percentage of those who re-offend after early release is] small - and a recent study shows they re-offend at the same rate as those who served their full terms, about 45 percent -- it only takes one example for a 30-second campaign ad. [Steve Cook, President of NAAUSA] said they've already found a case in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where a former federal inmate would have been in jail on the day he killed a man in 2011, if not for a sped-up release.

"When criminals are in custody, they're not victimizing the good and honest citizens in our community," Cook said. "When they're out on the street, they are."

Those types of arguments are "so old school," said [Holly] Harris [of the U.S. Justice Action Network]. "It just sounds old and dated and just so out of tune with where we are in society."

Translation:  "Where we are in society = "deep-sixing inconvenient facts in 'fact-based sentencing'."

Former USAO appellate chief turned National Review analyst Andy McCarthy uses the curious Dennis Hastert case to pull back the curtain on what is really going on with "sentencing reform."  He notes:

Mandatory minimum sentences and strict sentencing guidelines for serious offenses were enacted precisely because judges, often in collusion with prosecutors [Ed. note: and virtually always at the urging of defense counsel], were systematically releasing serious offenders, allowing them to continue preying on society. While the "man-mins" and guidelines helped dramatically reduce crime, the left-leaning legal profession agitated against them. One result is "fact" pleading -- the sort of shenanigans that we see in the Hastert case: a willfully false rendition of the facts in order to sidestep sentencing enhancements required by law.

That is what sentencing "reform" has in store for us. The proposals may call for careful judicial fact finding before a felon is released. But the law already calls for careful judicial fact finding when the felon is sentenced. What we frequently get, instead, is careful judicial evasion -- often aided and abetted, it must be noted, by the Justice Department. It may be that careful fact finding would result in the release of some prisoners who should be released; but the breed of "fact" finding we are apt to get from sentencing "reform" will result in the mass release of incorrigible, violent criminals.

McCarthy's article is a goldmine about how the federal criminal justice system works on the inside, and well worth your read.  Sentencing reform is getting as far as it is only because the public has no idea about how many breaks for criminals are already built into the system, though hidden from view.
Cliff Kincaid has this post at Accuracy in Media:

Before Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) electrified conservatives with his denunciation of liberal media bias at the GOP presidential debate last week, he took a little-noticed position on a major crime bill before the Senate that set him apart from the politically powerful Koch brothers. Taking the side of law-and-order conservatives on an issue that could emerge as a major focus of the 2016 presidential campaign, Cruz came out against the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) on the grounds that the legislation, which will retroactively reduce the sentences of thousands of federal prison inmates, could lead to the release of violent criminals, some convicted of using weapons while engaged in other crimes. He said the Senate bill would release "illegal aliens with criminal convictions" when a "major crime wave" is already sweeping the nation.

In an extraordinary development, the Koch brothers decided to publicly go after Cruz. Echoing the views of the libertarian billionaires, whose network of conservative advocacy groups was planning to spend $889 million on the 2016 campaign, Mark Holden, Senior Vice President & General Counsel of Koch Industries, Inc., issued a statement denouncing the Texas senator by name. He said, "We are disappointed that some members, including Senator Cruz, who have supported the need for reform and been strong supporters of the Bill of Rights, did not support this bill."
Strong supporters of the Bill of Rights?  Since when does supporting the Bill of Rights require supporting badly written, ill-conceived legislation that goes much too far in bringing back the evils that the 1984 sentencing reform was enacted to correct?  See CJLF's analysis of S. 2123.
The Washington Post supports a currently pending bill that would go easier or heroin pushers, but has the honesty to publish this story showing in heartbreaking detail the human damage these people bring about.

Let's assume arguendo that pot sentences can sometimes be too harsh.  What is the earthly excuse for voting to go easier on heroin dealers?  Do our senators and representatives have no clue about the ongoing, deadly heroin epidemic?  Or the ravages this drug causes even when it doesn't kill you?  Or is it that they don't care? As long as those billionaire-funded political contributions keep coming in, hey, look, stuff happens.

Read the story and decide for yourself whether now is the time to go soft on heroin dealers.  It begins:

DOJ Formally Launches Next Crime Wave

The LA Times story begins:

About 6,000 drug offenders will be released from federal custody over the next few days, but some legal experts warn that the government has done too little to help many of them successfully reintegrate into society.

Note the assumption that responsibility rests with the government to "reintegrate" those released, rather than upon them to lead normal, honest lives.

Still, moving right along. let me ask this:  When these people start up with a criminal life again, as we know in advance many and very likely most of them will, who will be accountable for the release decisions, and who will pay the price for the harm then caused?

My prediction is nobody and nobody.

Hold me to it.
The NYT's Room for Debate feature has this debate prompted by the murder of Officer Randolph Holder by a criminal out on a diversion program.  Included are pieces by CJLF President Michael Rushford and Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute.
A big part of the energy behind sentencing "reform" takes root in the belief that we have not only too many people in prison, but the wrong people.  Under this view, prisons are packed with "low level drug offenders" ("pot offenders" is often implied), leaving insufficient room for the "truly dangerous."

As Heather McDonald explains in "The Decriminalization Delusion," this is pure hogwash.  She shows, for example:

[Contrary to President] Obama, the state prison population (which accounts for 87 percent of the nation's prisoners) is dominated by violent criminals and serial thieves. In 2013, drug offenders made up less than 16 percent of the state prison population, whereas violent felons were 54 percent of the rolls and property offenders, 19 percent. (See graph below.) Reducing drug admissions to 15 large state penitentiaries by half would lower those states' prison count by only 7 percent, according to the Urban Institute.

Democrats Beware Too, if Republicans Wake Up

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In my last post, I warned Republicans to think twice before they use their power in Congress to go soft on crime by, among other things, giving lighter sentences and early release to thousands of heroin and meth traffickers.  As Americans rightly become more concerned about the surging crime they see around them, there will be a price to be paid if Congress gives a naive response. The bill will come due at the polls in a little less than 13 months.

The corollary is that the crime wave presents a hazard to Democrats too, and an opportunity for Republicans if they wake up in time and show the public that they will preserve the Reagan-era sobriety and steadfastness that has helped reduce crime so much.

As Ed Rogers points out in the Washington Post:

FBI Director James Comey has made two recent speeches where he warns us there is an emerging trend of police officers standing down or demonstrating reluctance to engage criminals because they are worried about sparking a situation similar to the riots in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore. Comey's comments do not fit the Obama administration's narrative on crime, and drew criticism from civil rights activists, law enforcement unions and the White House. Well, what do these groups have in common?  That's easy -- they're almost all Democrats, and they may be going down a slippery slope of promoting policies that have the effect of being pro-crime and anti-gun at the same time. Calling Democrats "pro-crime" may sound a tad harsh, but if you are for inhibiting police activity, causing fewer arrests and making mass releases from prison, what else would you call it? The politics of this issue are not fully formed, but if the Democrats don't watch it, they run the risk of being the "pro-crime" party in the United States. The FBI director's observations serve as another reminder that crime is growing as an important issue in the 2016 elections.

Republicans like Jeff Sessions, David Perdue and (former Smarter Sentencing Act fan) Ted Cruz have it figured out.  If the Democrats want to hold hands with drug dealers in the run-up to the 2016 elections, so be it.  Such a decision is certain to be wrong for the country and perverse for their Party  --  and one in which Republicans should very visibly refuse to join.

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