Sunday, October 23, 2016

Earned Incarceration

I was asked to address the increasingly controversial  issue of mass incarceration. My contribution on behalf of America's prosecutors follow:::: 

One of the urban legends accepted by conservatives and liberals alike is the claim that mass incarceration is out of control, that America has become a virtual prison state filled with inmates serving time for nonviolent crimes. In the primary races for president, everyone from Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton decried the number of inmates in prison serving time for victimless drug offenses and harmless property crimes.

As the media are finally figuring out, our prisons are not filled with pot smokers.

The U.S. Justice Department found that only 3.6 percent of state inmates were sentenced for drug possession. When it came to marijuana, the number plummeted to three-tenths of 1 percent.

Yet the falsehood lives on because it’s politically convenient. Likewise the myth of nonviolent property crimes. Barely 25 percent of inmates are in prison for property crimes.

Prosecutors come face-to-face with the victims of these supposedly harmless crimes. If you think drug dealing is a victimless crime, you’ve never talked to parents trying to keep their children away from drug dealers. You’ve never seen someone whose life has been ruined by meth or heroin addiction. There’s nothing nonviolent about it.

And if you think breaking into someone’s home and destroying their sense of safety is no big deal, then you can probably afford private security.

The politically inconvenient fact is that the majority of inmates in our prisons are guilty of violent offenses. Do we now let them out so Republicans and Democrats who don’t live in high-crime neighborhoods can feel good about themselves?

We tried this in the 1970s, when the media was filled with optimistic stories of various social programs to rehabilitate violent criminals. The result? By the 1980s, crime was the No. 1 concern of many Americans.

Our prison population is not the result of overzealous prosecutors. Like it or not, our prisons are filled with people who earned their incarceration through their behavior.

What do we do about them? Require them to serve their sentences. Accountability and truth in sentencing are not political gimmicks. In the long run it will be cheaper. We will have fewer victims, and more criminals will focus on true change instead of trying to game the system.If you want to see what can happen if we let violent offenders out, consider what the Los Angeles Times found in 2006 when it looked at results of releasing jail inmates early because of jail closures: “Rearrests for violent and life-threatening crimes soared from 74 before the jail closures to more than 4,000.” What the Times story didn’t address, but prosecutors know, is that most victims of violent crime are poor and minority. These victims are invisible to even the most liberal politicians. This is the real reason for the bipartisan push to empty our prisons and save money. It is the poor whose safety will be sacrificed.

It has become a cliché that America incarcerates more people than any other nation. If America were a prison state, immigrants would not want to move here. They come here because of our freedoms and our justice system. In America, we attempt to control violent people who use their freedom to hurt others.

read all five opinions on the Violence and Redemption website.