Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pardon Attorney Mishandled Aaron Petition

Yesterday, the Justice Department's Inspector General released a stunning new report finding that current pardon attorney Ronald Rodgers mishandled the commutation petition of Clarence Aaron, a first-time, nonviolent drug offender who is serving a life-without-parole sentence. Commutation is the only way Aaron might ever rejoin society. His commutation petition was denied in 2008, after Rodgers inaccurately reported the extent of the support for Aaron's release to the White House.

Read FAMM's press release on this shocking story here.

Why would the pardon attorney, whose job is to advise the president on which federal prisoners deserve clemency, misrepresent the fact that Aaron's sentencing judge and the U.S. Attorney supported his release?  According to the report and a new article by Dafna Linzer in The Washington Post, it appears that Rodgers just didn't want Aaron to get out:
Rodgers’s advice to the president, the inspector general concluded, “was colored by his concern . . . that the White House might grant Aaron clemency presently and his desire that this not happen.” The report includes excerpts of e-mails Rodgers sent to another Justice Department official expressing hope that Aaron’s request be denied.
“The details that emerge from this report about the way the Justice Department handled my client’s case shock me,” said Aaron’s attorney, Margaret Love. “Justice is long overdue for Clarence Aaron, and I hope the president will take immediate action to free him.”
In the Post article, FAMM President Julie Stewart calls for Rodgers' resignation -- which so far is not forthcoming:
Rodgers, a career civil servant and former military judge, took over the pardons office in 2008. Despite calls for his resignation, he has remained in office. Nearly all pardon recipients are preselected by Rodgers, and he personally reviews each application from federal inmates seeking early release. Under his leadership, denial recommendations have soared while pardons have been rarely granted.
Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said in July that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had full confidence in Rodgers. Hornbuckle declined to reiterate that support Tuesday. He said that Holder’s deputy, James Cole, was reviewing the inspector general’s findings and that “further comment would not be appropriate.” The Justice Department declined requests for interviews with Cole or Rodgers.
The White House relies almost exclusively on Rodgers in deciding whom the president will forgive or release from prison. Asked whether the president also has confidence in Rodgers’s advice, the White House declined to comment. ...
“Rodgers has to go,” said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “No one, least of all the president, can have any confidence that this pardon attorney is giving the president the unbiased information he needs to make clemency decisions.”
Commutation grants have become virtually nonexistent in recent years, but thousands of requests have been denied.  To date, President Obama has only granted one.  How can he do more when his Office of the Pardon Attorney fails to give him good advice about those who deserve second chances?

For the sake of the pardon power, the presidency, the public, and prisoners like Clarence, it's high time that the Office of the Pardon Attorney be reformed.

Representatives Call for Crack Clemency Board

Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA), John Conyers (D-MI), and 20 other Members of Congress signed and sent a letter to President Obama this week asking him to create a special board to consider clemency requests from federal prisoners still serving crack cocaine sentences based on the now-discredited 100-to-1 ratio.  As you'll remember, that unsupportable ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences was changed to 18-to-1 with the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010.

From Rep. Scott's website:
The FSA was signed into law by President Obama on August 3, 2010. It reduced the infamous sentencing ratio between crack cocaine and powder cocaine from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1. Congressmen Scott and Conyers, along with other signatories to the letter, had worked for more than 17 years to eliminate this clearly unwarranted sentencing disparity and were instrumental in the 18 to 1 compromise enacted in the FSA. In forwarding the letter to the President, Congressmen Scott and Conyers stated the following:
"Scientific studies and experiences over time revealed that there are no significant differences between cocaine in the crack form, which is generally smoked, and the powder form, which is generally inhaled. Yet, prior to enactment of the FSA, the mandatory minimum penalty for 5 grams of crack was 5 years whereas 500 grams of powder cocaine were required for a 5 year sentence. While we worked for, and continue to work for, elimination in its entirety of the sentencing disparity between crack and powder, the reduction from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1 is a good step toward that goal. With the strong national consensus, including within the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary branches of the federal government, that the 100 to 1 sentencing ratio is unfair to crack defendants, it is unconscionable that we still have people serving mandatory sentences under the 100 to 1 ratio. Therefore, we are calling upon President Obama to exercise his constitutional clemency authority to right this wrong by setting up a process for according those whose sentence length is based on a mandatory sentence for a crack violation, a reduction equivalent to an application of the FSA 18 to 1 reduction.
"This is the fair action for the President, whose strong support of the FSA greatly assisted its passage in the Congress. In the past, systemic clemency has been used to address injustices for which there was a similarly strong national consensus. For instance, President Gerald Ford established a commission to make recommendations to him on clemency for those imprisoned or subject to imprisonment for draft dodging during the Vietnam War era. Without the President's intervention through his clemency authority, men and women will continue to be held accountable to unfair sentences, some involving life imprisonment for non-violent crimes that resulted from romantic or familial relationships with other offenders, such as the so-called 'girlfriend problem' where the defendant was a bit player in the boyfriend's drug offense. It is appropriate and necessary for the President to close this gap in fairness in the application of our drug laws."
FAMM applauds Representatives Scott and Conyers and the other Members who signed this important call to eliminate the last vestiges of one of the most unfair, racially discriminatory sentencing policies in American history.  A clemency board would be a fair, impartial, and effective way to correct the remaining injustices of the 100-to-1 ratio, while also preserving public safety.  We hope the President responds with action.

Give to FAMM - and Your Gift is Doubled!

Did you know that now is the best time of all to give to FAMM?

Until December 31, 2012, every donation given to FAMM will be matched, dollar for dollar, by a generous FAMM supporter.  So, if you're looking for one last place to get that charitable tax deduction, FAMM's a great place to make a difference and stretch a buck.  You can donate securely online here.

We're so grateful for all of your support in 2012 and beyond.  We couldn't fight for justice without you!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mass. Monday: Changing the Guard, but not the Mission

As FAMM’s Massachusetts members know, Gov. Deval Patrick announced last week the resignations of four members of his cabinet, including the Secretary of Public Safety and Security, Mary Beth Heffernan.

While the players may change, we know that the Governor remains committed to sentencing reform – and FAMM plans to make the most of that commitment during his final two years in office. FAMM has had the pleasure of working closely with Secretary Heffernan and members of her staff over the last few years. We are sorry to see her go. Here is the statement we released following the Governor’s announcement:
“The most significant improvements to the state’s drug sentencing laws in over 30 years were accomplished under Secretary Heffernan’s leadership. The benefits from those reforms will be felt for years and for that, we are immensely grateful. In addition, we found the Secretary to be open and accessible, which is invaluable for non-governmental advocacy groups like ours. She was willing to listen to our views on sentencing reform and, in turn, was able to give us useful feedback based on her understanding of the various components of the criminal justice system. We expect to have the same kind of productive relationship with Sheriff Cabral as she assumes her new role.”
Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral will replace Mary Beth Heffernan as Secretary of Public Safety and Security. FAMM is delighted by the selection of Sheriff Cabral, given her strong support for sentencing reform. She was one of the contributors to our 2011 report, “Voices for Reform: 30 Years of Mandatory minimum in Massachusetts.”  In her piece, Sheriff Cabral described her experiences as a former prosecutor:
“I thought that mandatory sentences would provide some level of deterrence and give prosecutors a meaningful opportunity to temporarily put mid-level drug dealers out of business. I was wrong.”
Friends and foes come and go in every movement for change. In this situation, FAMM is glad to work with two good friends of sentencing reform, Secretary Heffernan and Sheriff Cabral.

Barb Dougan
Massachusetts Project Director

Friday, December 14, 2012

USAToday: Will Snitch for Money

A rather shocking story in USAToday details all the incentives -- including cash -- that people behind bars receive to provide prosecutors and police with information about other criminal activity -- commonly known as snitching.

The question, of course:  should people be paid to snitch, and is that snitching trustworthy?

The prisoners in Atlanta's hulking downtown jail had a problem. They wanted to snitch for federal agents, but they didn't know anything worth telling.

Fellow prisoner Marcus Watkins, an armed robber, had the answer.

For a fee, Watkins and his associates on the outside sold them information about other criminals that they could turn around and offer up to federal agents in hopes of shaving years off their prison sentences. They were paying for information, but what they were really trying to buy was freedom.

"I didn't feel as though any laws were being broken," Watkins wrote in a 2008 letter to prosecutors. "I really thought I was helping out law enforcement."

That pay-to-snitch enterprise – documented in thousands of pages of court records, interviews and a stack of Watkins' own letters – remains almost entirely unknown outside Atlanta's towering federal courthouse, where investigators are still trying to determine whether any criminal cases were compromised. It offers a rare glimpse inside a vast and almost always secret part of the federal criminal justice system in which prosecutors routinely use the promise of reduced prison time to reward prisoners who help federal agents build cases against other criminals.
Snitching has become so commonplace that in the past five years at least 48,895 federal convicts — one of every eight — had their prison sentences reduced in exchange for helping government investigators, a USA TODAY examination of hundreds of thousands of court cases found. The deals can chop a decade or more off of their sentences.

How often informants pay to acquire information from brokers such as Watkins is impossible to know, in part because judges routinely seal court records that could identify them. It almost certainly represents an extreme result of a system that puts strong pressure on defendants to cooperate. Still, Watkins' case is at least the fourth such scheme to be uncovered in Atlanta alone over the past 20 years.
Those schemes are generally illegal because the people who buy information usually lie to federal agents about where they got it. They also show how staggeringly valuable good information has become – prices ran into tens of thousands of dollars, or up to $250,000 in one case, court records show.
In the federal system, snitching is one of the only ways out of receiving a draconian mandatory minimum punishment, so even without payment, there is already enormous incentive to share information -- truthful or otherwise -- with prosecutors.  The problem, of course, is that the very people who are most culpable and most deserving of a longer mandatory minimum term are also the most likely to escape that sentence because they have information to share.  All too often, it's the small fry and low-level players with nothing to share who end up with the lengthy sentence.

And this national map of snitching, so to speak, raises another serious concern:  snitching is undermining that coveted uniformity and consistency in sentencing that the federal guidelines were designed to foster.  How much people snitch -- and in which kinds of cases -- varies wildly across the country.  The Eastern District of Kentucky looks like the best place to snitch -- over 37% of those convicted got sentence reductions for sharing information, and nearly 60% of those cases involved charges of drug trafficking.

If Hollywood is the indicator of an issue that has hit the mainstream, then snitching has arrived -- the movie "Snitch" opens this February in theaters and tells the story of a father who works with law enforcement in the hopes of saving his son from a mandatory minimum sentence.  Watch the trailer below:

Good and Mad Reading for the Weekend

Though it has nothing to do with sentencing, we wanted to take this week's GnM space to highlight an issue that is, fortunately, gaining some visibility:  hiked-up (and we mean really hiked-up) collect call rates for prisoners.

It happens all over the country -- a collect call from a prison costs families and prisoners exorbitant amounts of money, and their only choice is to pay up -- or hang up.  This earlier column from The Chicago Tribune explains how this policy makes money for prisons but costs taxpayers public safety:
A 15-minute call from an inmate can cost nearly $20. That has nothing to do with any special technical or logistical difficulties of providing the service. It's purely a matter of what prison operators can get away with charging. Families either pay the high fees, which can total hundreds of dollars a month, or forego the chance to stay in touch. ...
Ending this kind of price gouging is not coddling inmates. It's consumer fairness. Corporations shouldn't profit from skyrocketing rates on a captive market -- one that includes 2.7 million children who have one or more parents in prison.
The problem hits minority and poor communities harder due to their higher rates of incarceration, the very people least likely to afford the predatory fees. Opponents argue that the profits cover higher costs of monitoring inmate calls and can offset the prison rehabilitation programs. But that is hardly the most enlightened social policy. Disconnect inmates from family and you undermine a key element of rehabilitation. You take away a powerful means of fighting recidivism. It means we all pay a higher price in the end to lock up the same people over and over.
If you'd like to get more involved, the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice is working to end the higher rates for prison phone calls, and faith groups like the United Church of Christ have been advocating for change.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Growing, Growing, Gone...

The conclusion of a new (and, at eight pages, immensely readable) report from the Urban Institute highlights how our federal prison population has been growing, growing, growing ... leaving empty space all but gone, baby, gone.

Currently, a whopping one in every four dollars of the Department of Justice's budget is spent on prisons.  Those prisons aren't stuffed with Al Capones and serial rapists, either:  half of federal prisoners are there for a drug offense.

Unsurprisingly, the report finds that sentences are the problem.  Mandatory minimum sentences.  Long sentences.  Too many of both for nonviolent offenders.  It all adds up to an overcrowded, expensive, unsustainable federal prison system that is chewing up the Justice Department's budget like it's the yummiest figgy pudding this side of a Merry Christmas.  (Forgive me.  Too many Christmas carols.)

One of our ideas for improvement:  a broader safety valve, so judges are not required to give mandatory minimum terms when they would be excessive, unnecessary, or absurdly unjust.  Enough madness is enough. An expanded safety valve is one small, simple, and sane way to slow down this out-of-control prison growth.

-- Stowe

Brooklyn Halfway House Raising Questions

Halfway houses are easy targets for criticism -- under the best circumstances, it can be very challenging to help ex-prisoners return to society, find jobs, reunite with their families, stay sober, and remain law-abiding.  Halfway houses undoubtedly play an important role in our system -- and probably are not used nearly enough for all the offenders who might benefit from their services.  Here at FAMM, we've heard many assessments of halfway houses over the years, ranging from "horrific" to "helpful."

This New York Times article looks at a federal halfway house in Brooklyn and raises questions about its operation, whether halfway house operators (many of which are independent contractors, non-profits, or for-profit companies) are doing a good enough job, and whether halfway houses actually give formerly incarcerated people the tools they need to be successful outside of prison.  It's sure to prompt discussion.  Leave your thoughts in a comment.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

FAMM on Front Page of NYT!

FAMM and federal prisoner and FAMM supporter Stephanie George are featured on the front page of today's New York Times in this superb article about mass incarceration.

Stephanie George is serving life without parole for a nonviolent drug offense.  And she's not alone:  41,000 other LWOP-ers are in the U.S., including these four profiled by the Times.

Prison populations have exploded since the creation of mandatory minimum sentences in the 1980s, as this helpful graphic shows.  Bigger and bigger chunks of those populations aren't murderers or serial killers, but nonviolent drug offenders just like Stephanie.  And, as the article shows, everyone from social scientists to social conservatives is starting to recognize that locking up so many people is producing minimal gains in public safety, at maximum cost to taxpayers:
“We know that harsher punishments lead to less crime, but we also know that the millionth prisoner we lock up is a lot less dangerous to society than the first guy we lock up,” Dr. [Steven D.] Levitt said. “In the mid-1990s I concluded that the social benefits approximately equaled the costs of incarceration. Today, my guess is that the costs outweigh the benefits at the margins. I think we should be shrinking the prison population by at least one-third.”

Some social scientists argue that the incarceration rate is now so high that the net effect is “crimogenic”: creating more crime over the long term by harming the social fabric in communities and permanently damaging the economic prospects of prisoners as well as their families. Nationally, about one in 40 children have a parent in prison. Among black children, one in 15 have a parent in prison. ...

“It is unconscionable that we routinely sentence people like Stephanie George to die in our prisons,” said Mary Price, the general counsel of the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “The United States is nearly alone among the nations of the world in abandoning our obligation to rehabilitate such offenders.”
The utility of such sentences has been challenged repeatedly by criminologists and economists. Given that criminals are not known for meticulous long-term planning, how much more seriously do they take a life sentence versus 20 years, or 10 years versus 2 years?Studies have failed to find consistent evidence that the prospect of a longer sentence acts as a significantly greater deterrent than a shorter sentence.
Longer sentences undoubtedly keep criminals off the streets. But researchers question whether this incapacitation effect, as it is known, provides enough benefits to justify the costs, especially when drug dealers are involved. Locking up a rapist makes the streets safer by removing one predator, but locking up a low-level drug dealer creates a job opening that is quickly filled because so many candidates are available.
Conservatives are rightly seeing the futility of huge prison populations, too.  Groups like Right on Crime want smarter, more cost-effective solutions -- to lock up people we're scared of, instead of just those we're mad at.

The problem FAMM has highlighted for the last 20 years:  smarter, more effective alternatives aren't available when we force judges to send everyone to prison for specific amounts of time.  It's time to give judges discretion and flexibility to use less hard time and more money-saving, rehabilitation-inducing alternatives.  

All the greatest alternatives in the world are meaningless if incarceration is the only option for judges.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Heritage Panel Asks: Where's the Mercy?

Today at the Heritage Foundation, a distinguished group of experts gathered and discussed why, after about 1,400 days in office, President Obama has granted only 22 pardons and one commutation (sentence reduction) to federal prisoners and ex-prisoners.

You can watch the full event here.

The problem has numerous possible sources, because the grants of pardons and commutations have been dwindling since the Reagan administration.  Some of it is political -- presidents may be too busy or worried about looking soft on crime to use the pardon power, and granting clemency has been seen as much more precarious since Willie Horton and Marc Rich.  Some of it has to do with the process:  thousands of applications are filed and denied by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which is housed in the Department of Justice -- it's like the fox is guarding the henhouse.

The panelists offer some good solutions:  make the pardon attorney a political appointee who answers directly to the president; remove the Office of the Pardon Attorney from the Justice Department and make it an independent board, so that it doesn't suffer from prosecutorial bias; have the president establish a blue ribbon commission to review the current system and make recommendations for improving it.

FAMM supports a vigorous, regular, transparent, and fair administration of the pardon power.  There are too many people in our prisons who are serving absurdly lengthy sentences they no longer need because of their extraordinary rehabilitation.  We just need a system that will actually give them the justice they deserve.

FAMM, The Constitution Project, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and The Heritage Foundation co-sponsored the event.  Learn more about commutations here.

Compassionate Release in the New York Times!

FAMM's new report on compassionate release, co-authored with Human Rights Watch, is getting lots of media attention:  this weekend, The New York Times published an editorial on the federal Bureau of Prisons' failure to release those who are sick, dying, or deserving of release for other extraordinary, compelling circumstances.

Here's the full text, because they got it oh-so-right:

What Compassionate Release?
Editorial Board, Dec. 8, 2012
The New York Times

Federal sentencing law has been indefensibly harsh for a generation, but in theory it has contained a safety valve called compassionate release. The 1984 Sentencing Reform Act gives federal courts the power to reduce sentences of federal prisoners for “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” like a terminal illness.

In practice, though, the Bureau of Prisons and the Justice Department, which oversees the bureau, have not just failed to make use of this humane and practical program, but have crippled it. That is the disturbing and well-substantiated conclusion of a new report by Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

From 1992 through this November, a period in which the population of federal prisons almost tripled from around 80,000 to close to 220,000 inmates, the bureau released 492 prisoners under this program. This is a mere two dozen or so on average each year, and the number has so far not surpassed 37. The percentage of prisoners released has shrunk from tiny to microscopic.

When the 1984 law was passed, the Senate Judiciary Committee said compassionate release was intended for “the unusual case in which the defendant’s circumstances are so changed, such as by terminal illness, that it would be inequitable to continue the confinement of the prisoner.” The Bureau of Prisons was to be responsible for petitioning a court on a prisoner’s behalf, and the court was tasked with balancing a proposal for release against the potential risk to public safety of freeing the prisoner.

The United States Sentencing Commission has identified several extraordinary and compelling reasons that could justify compassionate release: terminal illness, a permanent physical or mental condition, impairment due to old age, the death or incapacitation of a family member who has been solely responsible for the care of the prisoner’s minor children.

But as things have turned out, the human rights report says, virtually the only ground the bureau accepts for compassionate release is a terminal illness with up to a year of life expectancy. To make matters worse, even when the prisoner meets its excessively strict tests, the bureau itself decides whether the prisoner should be set free — in effect usurping discretionary powers that Congress awarded the courts.

The report offers some sound remedies. Congress should modify the law to give prisoners themselves the right to seek compassionate release from a court. Congress should require the bureau to publish all program data, including the number of requests denied and why. And Congress should reaffirm the role of the courts as final arbiter.

Most important, the bureau must tell prisoners about the option for release, which it does not do now. It must quickly process all requests (again, something it does not do), and it must fulfill its duty to recommend the release of any prisoner who medical staff, social workers and others working in federal prisons believe has compelling reasons to leave prison early.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Individualized Sentencing for Veterans Only?

According to this new article out of Ohio, the Buckeye State Senate has unanimously approved a bill that would "require judges to consider a person's military service as well as their emotional, mental and physical condition before being sentenced for a crime." Judges wouldn't have a choice whether to consider a veteran's service, they would be required by law to consider it.

What is the purpose of this law? Is it simply a reflection of gratitude toward our nation's veterans? Or do lawmakers think judges should be more forgiving of this class of lawbreakers? According to bill sponsor Senator Joe Schiavoni, the need for the bill is rooted in veterans' unique experiences. According to Schiavoni, "They have been through things that most of us haven't. It's so, so important we consider that before they get thrown into jail and their problems aren't handled properly."

Well, now, that's interesting. We at SentenceSpeak have long supported the idea that judges should sentence individuals as individuals and not as members of a class that violated a specific section of the criminal code. In fact, we have cited combat service as the type of unique experience that cries out for individualized consideration. Unlike the Ohio bill, however, our instinct to treat individuals as individuals does not begin and with veterans.

To begin with, not all veterans are alike. Some see combat, most don't. So, not all veterans have experiences that are unique, and yet the bill makes no distinction. Second, some non-veteran defendants  grow up in violent neighborhoods that are far more traumatic than anything a non-combat veteran will experience. Yet the new law does not require (or even allow) judges to consider their backgrounds, which, in the words of Senator Schiavnoi, forces these offenders to experiences "things that most of us haven't."

In the end, we think there will be times when it makes sense to consider a veteran's experiences at sentencing. But we also think there are times when judges should be allowed to consider a non-veteran's experiences, too - again, in Senator Shiavnoi's words - "before they get thrown into jail and their problems aren't handled properly."  The problem is that mandatory minimum sentencing laws prohibit judges from considering individual circumstances and experiences. If Ohio wants to fix its sentencing laws, it should do so by letting judges judge in all cases, not simply those involving veterans.

- Ingersoll

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Panel asks: Where's the mercy?

The holiday season has traditionally been a time when presidents issue pardons and commutations (sentence reductions) to federal prisoners.  So far, though, President Obama has granted only 22 pardons and one commutation, less than any other modern president.  

A bipartisan panel of experts will convene on Monday, December 10, at 12:00 p.m. EST at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC to discuss why the use of the pardon power has dwindled over the years and how it might be revived.  The event is co-hosted by The Heritage Foundation, FAMM, The Constitution Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

If you’re in the area, you can RSVP here.  Read more about the problems with the administration of the pardon power here.

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.