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Criminal Justice Reform - people are talking

There’s a great editorial in the New York Times yesterday: A Blue-Ribbon Look at Criminal Justice

The nation’s criminal justice system is in need of an overhaul. This is particularly true of its incarceration policies. Too many people are being put behind bars who do not need to be there, at great cost to the states, and not enough attention is being paid to helping released prisoners re-enter society.

It goes on to endorse the Jim Webb blue-ribbon commission to review the Justice system. Is it possible that people are finally waking up to the notion that we shouldn’t be incarcerating everyone? For years, the default position in society has seemed to be that putting more people in jail was by definition somehow always good. But views are changing, and perhaps the Times has an idea why:

The high imprisonment rate has long been troubling as a matter of fairness, but with the recession it has become an enormous financial burden. States have begun, out of fiscal necessity, to parole prisoners faster and in larger numbers, and to look for alternatives to incarceration. This scattershot approach is far from ideal. It would be better to have experts address these issues at a national level in a more methodical way.

And yes, they even mention the drug war:

The commission also would look at sentencing policies for drug crimes, including their impact on minority communities, something that is long overdue, as well as the involvement of foreign-based gangs in crime in the United States.

Their conclusion:

The Senate leadership needs to push it to a vote, and the House needs to get to work on passing a companion bill. A broad consensus has emerged that the system is broken.

Very nice. I hope it gets a lot of play. It isn’t just that we need the blue-ribbon commission, but we need the discussion and the realization by the public that incarceration isn’t necessarily a good thing. Wouldn’t it be nice someday if we reached a point where the public demanded legislators, police, and prosecutors to defend the specific benefits to society of each use of what should be limited prison resources?

[Thanks, Tom]

Now, is it just the New York Times talking about this?

No.

In a speech today before the house and Senate, [Missouri Chief Justice William Ray] Price [Jr.] said Missouri’s “broken strategy of cramming inmates into prisons” isn’t working and costs the state millions of dollars each year.

He said the state should focus on rehabilitating nonviolent offenders, instead of sending them to jail. Jailing nonviolent offenders, Price said, frequently leads to higher recidivism rates. 41.6 percent of nonviolent offenders who are jailed, then released, return to jail within two years, he said.

Perhaps we are making real progress. Perhaps people are ready to talk.

But what about leadership?

I was astonished to read this speech delivered yesterday by Attorney General Eric Holder to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives:

As you all know, our nation now has the world’s highest incarceration rate. In the last 40 years, the number of inmates in American prisons has increased seven-fold. Today, one out of every 100 adults in America is behind bars.

Most of these prisoners are poor and uneducated. Twenty percent of them are Hispanic. Forty percent are black. In too many black families and neighborhoods, a “cradle-to-prison” life path has become the norm for young men. African Americans are now eight times more likely to be incarcerated as whites. And, if current trends continue, nearly 1 in 3 of our young black men will spend time behind bars.

Let me be clear, we enhance public safety by incarcerating those who harm our neighbors and our communities. This is a fact. But in our work to protect the American people, incarceration cannot be our only law enforcement strategy. We’ve learned that simply building more prisons and jails will not solve all our problems.

It’s time to face facts about our current approach to incarceration. It’s not sustainable. It’s not affordable. And we’ve seen that it isn’t always as effective as we think in reducing crime and keeping Americans safe.

Over the last few decades, state spending on corrections has risen faster than nearly any other budget item. Yet our best research suggests that there are other, more effective ways to invest taxpayer dollars and ensure public safety.

At a cost of $60 billion a year, our prisons and jails do very little to prepare prisoners to get jobs and “go straight” after they’re released. Former offenders are often barred from housing, shunned by potential employers, and surrounded by other ex-offenders in their neighborhoods. This is a recipe for high recidivism. And it’s the reason that two-thirds of those released are rearrested within three years.

It’s time for a new approach.

No, I don’t expect Eric Holder to make the kind of significant changes that are needed, but to have an Attorney General talk to law enforcement and say:

It’s time to face facts about our current approach to incarceration. It’s not sustainable. It’s not affordable. And we’ve seen that it isn’t always as effective as we think in reducing crime and keeping Americans safe.

… well, that’s truly remarkable.

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19 comments to Criminal Justice Reform – people are talking

  • Truly remarkable – or just another verbal blowjob?

    • Just another verbal blowjob? How many of these did you get from Ashcroft? Maybe he went down on you, but my reaction was that he was more interesting in talking about locking people up. Yes, this is truly remarkable, not because I expect Holder to do anything (did you miss the part where I said I don’t expect him to do anything significant?), but because it finally gets us talking in the right way, so that change can come from an informed populace demanding it of their leadership.

      Sometimes a verbal blowjob is the best you can expect from a politician.

  • DavesNotHere

    Ashcroft was in the Anslinger realm of idiots. Holder is approaching reality here, but I fear it is only because the irrefutable racial statistics lead him there. I’ll take it for now as opposed to Ashcroft for sure.

    I recently looked up some cannabis statistics based on a totally unrelated Eric Zorn Tribune blog post on how extreme the Illinois GOP candidate is on abortion and gays. But anyway, in the surveys Zorn linked was a study showing only 21% of Americans believe in locking up people in jail for cannabis. A larger percentage thought a fine was enough, but only 21% think jail is appropriate, yet that is what we do. I think we can call out elected leaders on that point right here and right now in the US. Decriminalization already has a big majority, not to knock legalization, just pointing out this poll. Holder better start talking like he is.

    http://www.pollingreport.com/drugs.htm

    “Assuming marijuana is not legalized, do you think people arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana should be put in jail, or just have to pay a fine but without serving any time in jail?”

    Put in jail 19
    Just pay a fine 72
    Both (vol.) 2
    Neither (vol.) 4
    Not sure 3

    TO repeat “Assuming marijuana is not legalized” only 21% want people locked in jail.

  • claygooding

    The pressure being applied by this depression is going up.
    The oversight committee on that last 700 billion just announced that the financial institutes will be moving up from just auto repossessions and home foreclosures into commercial loan foreclosures. That means that they will be closing businesses and putting even more people out of jobs. They also predict the closing of most small town banks. It is fixing to get real interesting.

  • Cannabis

    After the Collapse open pollinated seeds will become currency. We’re already starting to see seed shortages.

  • kaptinemo

    The debt steamroller is getting closer and closer to crushing the economy. No more loans from the foreigners until Uncle Sam cinches his belt in…a lot. And that means no more political shell games, moving small sums here and there to say they’ve been better utilized, but budget cuts. Real ones. Deep ones. And that means that those who’ve supported the wholly wasteful DrugWar will soon feel those cuts in their budgets. What’s happening in Colorado Springs will be happening elsewhere, and soon.

    The champagne days of the DrugWar are over. They’ve been over for some time, at least a decade, but they were maintained by being grafted onto the War on Terra (not a misspelling) and funded that way. But even that’s become moot. The funding to run government operations was foreign-provided (since there were never enough taxpayers to support the spending via tax revenues), and that’s not coming anymore.

    Mr. Holder is not being visionary, he’s prepping those with the foresight to understand that his remarks are a head’s-up for the inevitable contraction of Federal agencies, due to those looming budget cuts. He and his kind would happily keep the DrugWar rolling along if they could get away with it, but the piper is getting impatient, and wants his money…now.

  • Bucky

    One silver lining in the bankruptcy of this fading banana republik is no more money to lock up everyone caught with a nickel bag. Sure they’ll cut social security and medicaid and pensions first but the budget axe will hit draconian agencies soon enough. Viva la bankruptcy. Ohh and don’t worry no rich people will be harmed in Depression Version 2.0.

  • Whoa, Pete!

    No, I don’t recall getting any verbal blowjobs from Ashcroft. That being said, at least he and Bush made no bones about wanting to lock us up. When Obama and Holder stop arresting as many of us as previous administrations, then I’ll change my tune. Until then, labeling their rhetoric as anything other than verbal blowjobs is simply not justifiable.

    And when a verbal blowjob is considered the best we can expect from a politician, well, what does that say about the politician? Obama is no friend to drug policy reform. Period. And the belief that he and Holder are playing an inside game and really believe in reform is delusional.

  • Chris

    The sooner people start treating this as an important issue, the better.

  • Just me

    Crunch ,crunch, scream ,scream. Thats the economy crunch and the screams of the people in the ear of those who waste. Its coming people be ready.

  • unfortunately, it is possible to overhaul the criminal justice system in the name of reducing incarceration rates and cutting costs without creating the slightest changes in the legal status of any illicit intoxicant — simply by fining the drug users, sending them to rehab and putting them on probation. and here’s the really fun part: they will probably be charged for the cost of it all.

    until i start hearing the words “end the drug war and drug prohibition” i reserve the right to not get too excited about our making any genuine progress.

  • Daniel, the problem is you still think that an elected President in this day and age can actually implement drug policy reform. I’ve never had that belief.

    Sure, maybe we can spend thousands of man-hours and effort to gradually convince the masses of the value of electing a Libertarian or a nerd for President (with no guarantee that it would actually serve the purpose). By the time we accomplished that, drugs could already be legal by spending the effort convincing the masses of that.

    Here is the value of the empty verbal blow job from Holder…

    Remember when Holder issued the statement about how the feds wouldn’t prosecute medical marijuana anymore? Of course, he never did that. The actual statement he made was completely void of content, and the policy never actually changed. They’re still going after medical marijuana dispensaries. But because of the statement, the sense out there was that there was a significant change in policy. The media all said it was a significant change in policy. This has emboldened states to more seriously consider medical marijuana, and it’s emboldened Latin American countries to start defying American drug war policies (you see the reference to that so-called Holder policy change all the time out there). And so the perception of change leads to change.

    No, it’s not clean, it’s not fair, it’s politics. Whether the Holder/Obama statements are craftily stealthy or simply stupid or politically self-serving doesn’t matter. They actually do us good, because they help us raise the awareness among the masses, who are the ones who will demand the change.

  • Cliff

    “until i start hearing the words “end the drug war and drug prohibition” i reserve the right to not get too excited about our making any genuine progress.”

    Yes, we should hold out for the ‘unconditional surrender’ of the drug warriors, just like we did to Japan during WWII. Only this time we will depose the ‘Emperor’, I mean the Drug Czar, and not allow him or her to even hold a ‘symbolic’ position in government.

  • Pete~

    Have you forgotten that Ron Paul raised over 35 million dollars in large part by simply stating he’d end the drug war? Most of that money came from younger Americans, many new to the political process. You may not believe a president has the ability to implement drug policy reform, but it was a president, aided and abetted by religious leaders and a compliant Congress (and without any great public outcry), that instituted the policy of drug prohibition.

    And I don’t believe the Netherlands and Portugal, and now Mexico, adopted their drug policies as a result of any grassroots effort advocating medical marijuana. They made those changes due to a belief that recreational drug users posed little or no threat to society. Are they just an exception? And if so, how so?

  • DdC

    Virtual blowjobs suck.

  • DdC

    Yes Daniel, and we see how they responded to that…
    US Supreme Court crushes campaign finance restrictions

    Same as when Leary overturned the 37 tax act,
    they responded with Nixon’s lie, the CSA.

    As they funded Iran Contra and Haiti coups. Diverted and manipulated we the nessy untouchables or Pre NASCAR ridge runners, that basically are todays growers. No one seemed to have a problem with drinking. Removing the same alternatives to the homegrown they removed with Anslingers prohibition, after the CSA fully and legally. When we the people realize the Ganjawar is not Political, it’s Fascism. It will end. Or at least maybe we’ll stop chasing our tails thinking getting dizzy is a buzz on kynd skunkbud.

    Now the internet is the mainstream for information. Under constant multi directional threats for censorship. All the cable entertainment news banks on prohibition and had a monopoly until this non-programmed liberty came along. Not in their prudent interest to jeopardize profits at this juncture.

    When people see not only the Ganjawar, but Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Burma, Thailand ect, ect. The police actions in Iraq and Afghanistan are not entirely directed by Biraq Obombo. When we raise hell about clean air and water and living wages for us the people, along with less toxic and homegrown alternatives. As consumers they will eventually when backed up against the wall, mfers will listen and change their ways. Then its win win for everybody. Not just a few Neocons pulling the strings of the appointed financed campaigns. But if we don’t it won’t. Centrifugal force means it has to trickle up, never down.

    Justice can only come from removing all money and identity of the defendant. Absolutely no court TV while the trial is taking place. Imprison Nancy Grace thugs killing innocents as judge jury and even executioner. Its none of tvlands business. Remove the profits from Health care and people will get health care and less taxes treating what is prevented. Remove profits from prisons and all police actions, especially the foreign wars misnomered for profits, Mission Accomplished. Turned Iraq into a Vietnam Korean police action. From Hughes to Sikorsky in Colombia or Halliburton Asbestos butlers in Iraq. Money has corrupted the integrity and removed the checks and balances absolutely required for humans.

    An American with the guts to serve the people and truth, could surprise a lot of people at the voting booth. Not Exxon’s barbie doll palin. A person that won’t be appeasing and compromising on the laws of physics. Or making deals with the Bill of Rights. That Obombo can change and doesn’t know or have the inclination too. Judges legislating and Legislators lobbying is traitorous. We have laws against traitors. We should enforce them. While cops make cases for political DA’s, serving the prison industrial complex. The same as Haliburton and Blackwater serving the Military Industrial complex. On the tax dollar while bridges fall apart and over crowd schools spit out another herd of unquestioning machine operators.

  • Servetus

    For a thorough history of the Amsterdam grassroots movement that created the first coffee shops, see:

    http://www.marijuanalibrary.org/HT_provos_0190.html

  • Servetus~

    I was somewhat aware back when it was happening – thanks for the refresh. Grassroots really did the trick but, to my point, the medicinal argument was not made.

  • DdC

    Nice link. first of the modern day shops…

    Marijuana – The First Twelve Thousand Years
    The Hashish Club

    Then, as now, army life was basically a series of endless routines and insurmountable boredom. To pass the time, some men will drink themselves into oblivion. But in Moslem Egypt, alcohol was not the intoxicant of choice. The Egyptians preferred another drug, and that drug, of course, was hashish. So widespread did the hashish habit become among his men that in October 1800 Napoleon issued the following ordinance to the French army of occupation…

    Maple Sugar Hashish Candy

    Club des Hashischins
    The Club des Hashischins (sometimes also spelled Club des Hashishins or Club des Hachichin), was a Parisian group dedicated to the exploration of drug-induced experiences, notably with hashish. It was active from about 1844 to 1849 and counted the literary and intellectual elite of Paris among its members, including Dr. Jacques-Joseph Moreau, Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, Gérard de Nerval, Eugène Delacroix and Alexandre Dumas, père. Monthly “séances” were held at the Hôtel de Lauzun on the Île Saint-Louis.

    Celebrity Stoners: American High Society

    Cannabis: The Philosopher’s Stone
    Part 5: The Hashish Club

    1. The Knights Templar and Cannabis
    2. Sufi Alchemists and the Grail Myth
    3. The Alchemist Monk Francois Rabalais
    4. Medieval Alchemists and Cannabis