Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Achievable Post-Election Justice Agenda

That's the title of this thoughtful column by FAMM President Julie Stewart over at The Crime Report.

While not much has changed since the election (Democratic president and Senate, Republican House, Attorney General Eric Holder still at the helm of the Department of Justice), Julie is optimistic about criminal justice reform because the two parties have gotten closer on the issue:  everyone wants to keep us safe, but everyone also shares a growing concern about having the largest prison population in the world, at enormous cost to taxpayers.
Here is a modest, but worthwhile criminal sentencing agenda that could garner bipartisan support:
1. Expand the federal sentencing valve
Congress passed the safety valve in 1994 to spare low-level drug offenders from excessive, ill-fitting mandatory minimums. The reform has proven wildly successful, with almost 80,000 individuals receiving shorter sentences while crime has steadily fallen over the same period. Congress should expand the safety valve to cover other types of offenses and more offenders;
2. Increase early release options
We should be increasing opportunities for federal prisoners to earn early release from prison if they complete proven, recidivism-reducing programs;
3. Clarify federal sentencing laws
These were originally designed to target recidivists so that only true repeat offenders are subject to lengthy sentences;
4. Encourage a more vibrant exercise of executive clemency authority
This will not be difficult given Obama’s miserable record to date; and
5. Expand elderly and compassionate release programs
Reinstate the elderly prisoner release program and ensure that the compassionate release program works as intended, so that valuable prison bed space is not wasted on offenders who pose no threat to society.
These changes would not unleash a torrent of dangerous criminals back into society. Nor would they save enough money to cure our government’s fiscal woes.
But they would save some money while advancing two goals policymakers from across the political spectrum should support: less crime and fewer prisoners.