Let's do a quick-hitter of what we've learned so far about the top reasons to reject the mass sentencing reduction parading as "sentencing reform," and about why, instead, we should preserve the system of honest and sober sentencing that has helped reduce crime by half over the last generation.
It's depressing that we should even have to make an argument to safeguard a huge benefit all our citizens have enjoyed, particularly those most at-risk—and those who will disproportionately suffer if we lose focus and slide back to the failed, crime-ridden policies of the past.
But you do what you gotta do. Here goes.
1. The ambition, intellectual leadership and logical momentum of "reform" demand the release of thousands of violent criminals, not just low-level dopers. This has now become undeniably clear; there is no longer even an effort to conceal it. We need to understand this prepossessing fact: Sentencing reform is the first step on the road to more violent offenders on the street—and, thus, more violence. Is this what we want?
2. The movement to slash prison time for hard drug traffickers and violent criminals has, not surprisingly, essentially no public support. Reform groups avoid like the plague sponsoring a straightforward, non-push poll on the question. They understand that only a tiny minority will back reduced sentencing for hard drug traffickers—so best not to ask. The movement is strictly interest group- and billionaire- driven, inside-the-Beltway. Resentment of such interest group machinations is a good deal of the reason for Donald Trump.
3. The sky-high recidivism rate—reported after vast research by Eric Holder's Justice Department—insures that if we shorten sentences, the result will be more crime faster. There is no real elegant way to put this, and no honest way to deny it. Three-quarters of released felons go back to crime.
4. Sentencing reductions by Congress will wind up giving a double bonus to criminals, what with President Obama's coming executive clemencies. It's bad enough to buy one pig in a poke; buying the herd is something else. And we see increasing indications that the herd will number in the thousands. At the minimum, Congress should demand to see what traffic will be on the clemency road before adding to the jam.
5. Why should Congress surrender to the Obama/Sharpton agenda on sentencing when (a) our present system has produced effective results at its main mission—suppressing crime—and (b) more radical proposals will make Americans even more ill-at-ease than they are now at executive branch willfulness, indiscipline and over-reach?
6. Sentencing "reform" has done a clever job of conflating itself with overcriminalization and overfederalization, but they are different problems with different solutions. We can and should reduce the sprawling over-reach of federal criminal law, and particularly the sorts of laws that, ominously for those who value freedom, put the jailer's fist behind the regulatory state. But to correct the over-breadth of the regulatory state should scarcely have us throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The public wants, and has hugely benefited from, our present system of strong sentencing against behavior that any normal person regards as criminal—hard drugs, illicit gun-running, violence and rapacious fraud. Reining in other kinds of criminal laws, laws that have no proper purpose or traditional grounding, is a high priority, for sure. But it does not require, or even suggest, that we should dilute laws that punish behavior any normal person knows is criminal.
7. With heroin abuse and associated drug murder spiking in cities from coast to coast, is this the time to go soft on drug sentencing? Could I get the logic in that?
8. A good chuck of sentencing "reform" is actually hard drug legalization-lite, even though the county is massively against legalizing hard drugs. Indeed, legalization of such drugs has next to no support, as this Huffington Post survey graphically shows.
9. Republicans in particular should be able to understand that going back toward the soft policies of the past is a part of national pattern of decline and retreat, and of the lowering of standards throughout the culture. Treating criminals as victims will take us farther down a path that already increasingly gives breaks to those who sponge up the money at the expense of those who earn it.
10. Federal sentencing reform would ignore not only the past but the present. California beat Congress to the punch by adopting the sentencing "reform" proposal known as Prop 47. The results have ranged from poor to disastrous, as even its backers now admit. The federal government needs to learn from this blunder, not replicate it, as Debra Saunders' piece makes clear.
11. Sentencing reform will increase the power of unaccountable and ideological judges, and thus squander not merely the practical benefits (in terms of crime reduction) but the structural benefits of the sentencing reforms enacted in the Reagan Administration.
12. It will increase irrational disparity and invite disguised discrimination. I am not one of those who thinks judges, federal or state, discriminate against black people. (Most judges will enhance a sentence when the defendant has a long record or has engaged in violence, but to differentiate on the basis of relevant behavior is not to discriminate on the basis of race). Still, a system with firmer rules gives greater assurance of more nearly equal treatment than one that lacks them.
13. Contrary to what we are constantly told, cutting sentences will not save money. Any savings—if there are any—will be diverted to social services for criminals. To their credit, sentencing reformers have been candid in this regard. The same people who tell us it's imperative to spend less on building prison cells tell us in the next breath that we need to spend a great deal more on indigent defense, improving the quality of prison life, re-entry programs, vocational education, counseling, family re-unification, mental health services, post-release housing, medical care and more sentencing commissions.
It has nothing to do with saving money. It has everything to do with where we spend the money. We can spend it on what we know works to reduce crime victimization of ordinary citizens, or we can spend it on the liberal wish list.
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