Friday, May 30, 2014


The New York Times published what the editorial board must consider a hard-hitting editorial today, calling for the end of "mass incarceration."  It's going to be widely discussed, but let's take an initial look at what the Times editorial board is saying.  Here we go . . . .
"End Mass Incarceration Now"
First of all, the very title is misleading.  As far as I know, there is no “mass incarceration” in the United States.  There are about 2 million individuals in prisons and jails – less than 1% of the population, and they all got there individually, following trials in which they had more of a chance to defend themselves than they would have in any European country. They are not in prison as part of any “mass” group.  There is no "mass" that has been incarcerated as a "mass." 
For more than a decade, researchers across multiple disciplines have been issuing reports on the widespread societal and economic damage caused by America’s now-40-year experiment in locking up vast numbers of its citizens. If there is any remaining disagreement about the destructiveness of this experiment, it mirrors the so-called debate over climate change.
Actually  it doesn't mirror the debate over climate change, it's exactly like the debate over climate change: a lot of politically driven noise promoted by the mass media, on the one hand, and a much quieter but more thoroughgoing analysis on the other side.
In both cases, overwhelming evidence shows a crisis that threatens society as a whole. In both cases, those who study the problem have called for immediate correction.
Actually, in both cases, those who have an immediate personal and political interest in their preferred solutions are using the threat of catastrophe to bully an increasingly skeptical and incomplaisant public.  What immediately threatens the American public is the prospect that the Obama administration would put in place an Executive Order to release from the prisons where they belong a million violent criminals whose careers have been at least temporarily placed on hold.
Several recent reports provide some of the most comprehensive and compelling proof yet that the United States “has gone past the point where the numbers of people in prison can be justified by social benefits,” and that mass incarceration itself is “a source of injustice.”
Locking up criminals has purposes other than providing “social benefits.”  In the past, the purpose of providing "justice" was provided by flogging and hanging; prisons were proposed as a more humane alternative, since they would give the criminal a chance to reform himself.  That's why they are called "penitentiaries" - they were intended for the penitent.

Since there is no “mass incarceration” in the United States, as discussed, above, non-existent "mass incarceration" cannot be a “source of injustice.”  However, I think that liberal editorial writers tend to underestimate the social benefit provided by taking violent criminals off the streets, since they tend to live, work, and shop in neighborhoods other than the usual hunting grounds of those violent criminals. People who live in neighborhoods where they are the prey of violent sociopaths are more appreciative of the benefits that accrue from keeping criminals behind bars.
That is the central conclusion of a two-year, 444-page study prepared by the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the Justice Department and others. The report highlights many well-known statistics: Since the early 1970s, the nation’s prison population has quadrupled to 2.2 million, making it the world’s biggest. That is five to 10 times the incarceration rate in other democracies.
The fact that incarceration has increased since the 1970s should not be surprising, since it was during the 1970s that incarceration rates in the United States dropped to historical low levels, with the emptying of State mental hospitals and liberal control of the courts.  And the comparison to "other democracies" is irrelevant and meaningless. Without knowing the crime rates that incarceration is intended to ameliorate in any given "democracy," you can't determine if the rate of incarceration is sensible or not
On closer inspection the numbers only get worse. More than half of state prisoners are serving time for nonviolent crimes, and one of every nine, or about 159,000 people, are serving life sentences — nearly a third of them without the possibility of parole.
As the Giuliani/Brock experience in New York City showed, however, the criminals who are committing the non-violent nuisance crimes are the same criminals committing the violent felonies – you need to catch them for whatever you can, and lock them up for as long as possible.  In the long run, that reduces the crime rate enormously.  Career criminals commit many, many crimes in the course of their activities.  Removing a small number of habitual criminals from the streets goes a long way towards making those streets habitable. 
While politicians were responding initially to higher crime rates in the late 1960s, this “historically unprecedented” growth is primarily the result of harsher sentencing that continued long after crime began to fall. These include lengthy mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses that became popular in the 1980s, and “three strikes” laws that have put people away for life for stealing a pair of socks.
This is the Times’ Fox Butterfield’s eternal paradox: they just can’t understand why prison populations are high “despite” a drop in the crime rate.  The fact is, that at least one reason the crime rate is lower, is that a larger proportion of the criminals are locked up. 
And even though the political climate has shifted in recent years, many politicians continue to fear appearing to be “soft on crime,” even when there is no evidence that imprisoning more people has reduced crime by more than a small amount.
What? I thought that the problem was “harsher sentencing that continued long after crime began to fall”? Which is it?  Are crime rates falling or not? And it should not surprise anyone that voters expect criminals to be kept off the streets.
Meanwhile, much of the world watches in disbelief. A report by Human Rights Watch notes that while prison should generally be a last resort, in the United States “it has been treated as the medicine that cures all ills,” and that “in its embrace of incarceration, the country seems to have forgotten just how severe a punishment it is.”
That’s just exaggerated name-calling. Prison is certainly not considered a medicine that cures all ills.  But it is considered a way to keep the general population out of harm’s way. 
The severity is evident in the devastation wrought on America’s poorest and least educated, destroying neighborhoods and families. From 1980 to 2000, the number of children with fathers in prison rose from 350,000 to 2.1 million. Since race and poverty overlap so significantly, the weight of our criminal justice experiment continues to fall overwhelmingly on communities of color, and particularly on young black men.
I think that race is a red herring.  Heather Mac Donald, among others, has shown that the proportions of different ethnic groups in the number of malefactors described to police by victims, in the number of people arrested, in the number who are brought to trial, and in the number who are imprisoned - are all the same.  The racial proportions are the same. Which is in fact evidence that there is in fact no racial bias in the administration of criminal justice in the United States. And although the rates at which young black men commit any measured violent crime are at least several times higher than the rates at which young men of other defined ethnicities commit them, I think that a careful sociological analysis would show, that the crime rates are similar for young men of any race brought up outside nuclear families headed by their fathers. Race is not the issue, the breakdown of traditional families is the issue.
After prison, people are sent back to the impoverished places they came from, but are blocked from re-entering society. Often they cannot vote, get jobs, or receive public benefits like subsidized housing — all of which would improve their odds of staying out of trouble. This web of collateral consequences has created what the National Academy of Sciences report calls “a highly distinct political and legal universe for a large segment of the U.S. population.”
There are consequences to all of our actions. I don’t think it is really fair to say that prisoners are "sent back to the impoverished places they came from", they are just going back home, as anybody would.  And the fact that they have to regain the trust of neighbors and employers is a normal consequence of their previous behavior.
All of this has come at an astounding economic cost, as tallied by a report from the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project — $80 billion a year in direct corrections expenses alone, and more than a quarter-trillion dollars when factoring in police, judicial and legal services.
Crime is what causes these costs to be necessary.  The criminals are responsible for the costs of dealing with them. The fact that it costs so much to have police departments, prosecutor's offices, courts, public defenders, jails, and prisons is due to the fact that there are criminals among us.  With fewer criminals, the costs would be lower.
Many of the solutions to this crisis are clear, even if the political path to them often is not: Reduce sentence lengths substantially. Provide more opportunities for rehabilitation inside prison. Remove the barriers that keep people from rejoining society after they are released from prison. Use alternatives to imprisonment for nonviolent offenders, drug addicts and the mentally ill. Release elderly or ill prisoners, who are the least likely to re-offend. And since more than 95 percent of inmates are eventually released, rate prisons on their success in keeping former inmates from returning — which as many as two-thirds currently do. Some states have already taken smart and effective steps in these directions, but there is a long way to go.
These are the preferred remedies that Democrat Party politicians will be pushing:

1) Let all convicts vote – they will all be reliable Democrat voters, right?
2) Let all prisoners out of prison – the Obama Administration has released over 30,000 illegal alien felons, why not release the rest?
3) Shorter sentences.
4) Forbid employers from making criminal background checks of employees – being pushed already.
5) Abolish local zoning and force Section 8 housing projects on relatively low-crime communities.  Then they too will experience the joys of urban culture.

But note that these are "solutions" to the "problem" of "mass incarceration."  But "mass incarceration" is not the root problem.  The real problem is crime.  The real problem is that there are evil, sociopathic people in this world, who do not have a conscience, and who prey upon their neighbors without remorse.  We need a solution to that problem! When you can show me "alternatives to imprisonment" that make a difference, when you can show me that rehabilitation can transform a sociopathic hoodlum into a decent citizen, then we will have something to talk about.  In the meantime, locking these predators up for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets will have to do.
The insanity of the situation is plain to people across the political spectrum, from Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who agree on the urgent need for change. The research is in, and it is uncontestable. The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, social, and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough.
The insanity of this editorial is plain to me.  Whenever someone tells you that the research is uncontestable, you know that you are in the presence of a "true believer" and not someone whose views are based in reality.


Reliapundit said...


btw: "mass incarceration" is one reason obama & holder decided NOT to faithfully execute the laws and instructed - in writing - that USAG's NOT include the quantity of narcotics in any indictment where it would lead to a mandatory minimum sentence - directly and FLAGRANTLY disregarding the law of the land as democratically passed by Congress and signed into law by a previous POTUS. THIS IS IMPEACHABLE, and they should both be impeached for it.

Punditarian said...

This by the way is what will happen when you let the prisoners loose.

Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe:

"In the first major federal study of recidivism since 1994, statisticians tracked nearly 405,000 inmates in 30 states who were released from prison in 2005. Within six months, 28 percent of those freed prisoners had been arrested for a new crime. After three years, 68 percent had been arrested. By the end of the five years (the period covered by the study), the percentage had grown to a whopping 77 percent.
The report breaks down these new crimes by category. Five years after regaining their freedom, 29 percent of the prisoners had been arrested for a violent offense, 38 percent for a property crime, 39 percent for a drug offense, and 58 percent for public-order offenses. (Many released inmates were arrested on multiple charges.) Only 23 states could provide researchers with complete data on inmates who returned to prison; but among the released prisoners in those states, more than half — 55 percent — ended up behind bars once more"


The best way to prevent crime and keep crime rates low is to keep criminals behind bars.