Here in Oregon, we've had a long debate about the value of mandatory minimum sentencing. Measure 11 was sponsored by right-wing activists like Kevin Mannix and Steve Doell. Later, Measure 57 was put on the ballot by the 2007 Oregon Legislature as a way to blunt the effects of the Mannix/Doell Measure 61.
The battles over those measures featured a coalition of progressives, human services advocates, civil libertarians, and organized labor on one side - against the typical right-wing coalition of social conservatives, anti-tax advocates, and lock-em-up advocates.
But now, there's an interesting wrinkle. Grover Norquist, the leader of the right-wing Americans for Tax Reform, has come out strongly against mandatory minimum sentencing measures like Measure 11.
The biggest problem from the perspective of the taxpayer, however, is that mandatory minimum sentencing policies have proven prohibitively expensive. In 2008, American taxpayers spent over $5.4 billion on federal prisons, a 925 percent increase since 1982.
This explosion in costs is driven by the expanded use of prison sentences for drug crimes and longer sentences required by mandatory minimums. Drug offenders are the largest category of offenders entering federal prisons each year. One third of all individuals sentenced in federal courts each year are drug offenders. And these convicts are getting long sentences. In 2008, more than two-thirds of all drug offenders receive a mandatory minimum sentence, with most receiving a ten-year minimum.
The jump in corrections costs at the state level has been equally dramatic. State corrections spending has ballooned from $6 billion in 1982 to over $50 billion in 2008. These skyrocketing costs are hitting states at a time when they are already being forced to cut back due to the bad economy. ...
In closing, I want to note that questioning the wisdom of mandatory minimums has nothing to do with being soft on crime. I believe in strong and swift punishment when appropriate. I support the death penalty for murderers. But the government has a responsibility to use taxpayer money wisely. Viewed through the skeptical eye I train on all other government programs, I have concluded that mandatory minimum sentencing policies are not worth the high cost to America’s taxpayers.
A few blogs have picked this up, but I can't seem to find any coverage from the traditional news outlets. God knows why; it's definitely a man-bites-dog sort of moment.
The question I'm thinking about this morning: Given the long association between anti-government advocates like initiative racketeer Bill Sizemore and lock-em-up advocates like Kevin Mannix and Steve Doell - what does Norquist's turnabout mean for Oregon?
Norquist allies like Freedomworks have long been allied with Mannix - even giving him $200,000 for "fundraising consulting". Will they cut off their support for him?
Bill Sizemore's long been Norquist's Man in Oregon. Will Sizemore oppose the next Mannix/Doell sentencing measure, siding with progressives, human services advocates, civil libertarians, and organized labor?
Man bites dog, indeed.