AG Holder continues to talk about being "smart on crime"

Chip Shields

Eric Holder

Says "Adapting our law enforcement strategies to get smart on crime is both necessary and possible — if we are willing to demand it."

From Douglas Berman at Sentencing Law & Policy:

Continu[ing] his stumping for new approaches to crime and punishment (see prior speeches noted here and here and here), Attorney General Eric Holder earlier today gave a keynote address to the ABA House of Delegates outlining the Department of Justice's latest vision and priorities for reform of the nation's criminal justice systems.

Here are a few sentencing-oriented highlights from the text:

By 2007, the nation’s violent crime rate had dropped by almost 40% from its peak in 1991. Few would dispute that the imprisonment of offenders has been at least partially responsible for this dramatic drop in crime rates. But just as everyone should agree that incarceration is — and will continue to be — part of the answer, everyone should also agree that it is not the whole answer. And so, we at the Department of Justice will continue to put the people who threaten our communities where they belong — behind bars. But we will also recognize that imprisonment alone is not a complete strategy for enforcing our nation’s criminal laws, and we will act on that fact.

We will not focus exclusively on incarceration as the most effective means of protecting public safety. For although spending on prison construction continues to increase, public safety is not continuing to improve. Crime rates appear to have reached a plateau beyond which they no longer decline in response to increases in incarceration. Indeed, since 2003, spending on incarceration has continued to rise, but crime rates have flattened.

But there is another reason to consider new law enforcement strategies: simple dollars and cents, and the principle of diminishing marginal returns. Every state in the Union is trying to trim budgets. States and localities are laying off teachers, cutting back on public health, and canceling after-school programs for our children. But in almost all cases, spending on prisons continues to rise. This is unsustainable economically. Many jurisdictions simply cannot afford the monetary costs of focusing exclusively on incarceration, to say nothing of the social costs associated with high rates of imprisonment.

So what can we do to lower the crime rate further, to make American communities safer, and to get smarter on crime? We need to add new tools and new strategies to our existing efforts to fight crime. One of these strategies is to look several steps past the point where we put people in prison, and to consider what happens to those people after they leave prison and reenter society....

Adapting our law enforcement strategies to get smart on crime is both necessary and possible — if we are willing to demand it. The challenges we face have evolved with time. But the opportunities available to us have changed too. We are able to compare the cost and suitability of different criminal justice strategies. We no longer must choose between more prisoners or more crime: we can reduce our dependence on incarceration and we can reduce crime rates. At the same time we can increase the integrity of our criminal justice system. We can harness science and data to tackle emerging problems and to preserve our foundational principles. The more we know, the better we can do, the more sophisticated we can be.

If all of us — judges, attorneys, law enforcement personnel, corrections officials, Justice Department lawyers, policymakers, and all Americans concerned with the cause of safe streets and equal justice — approach these challenges with open minds and determined action, there is no question that a smarter- and better- criminal justice system is within our grasp.

Well said.

  • AmandaN (unverified)

    Chip, the current federal system's sentencing scheme makes Kevin Mannix's ideas look like that of a Quaker Sunday School Teacher. So please don't think that this is some kind of justification for your gutting of the criminal justice system in Oregon.

    How do you expect people to do alternative to jail treatment programs like Drug Court when there is no incentive to do so? Right now Drug addicts in most Drug Court Programs have a 6 mos jail sentence over their head on a suspended probation violation. You were instrumental in passing HB 3508 which limits probation violation sentences to 2 months effective DATE OF SENTENCING IN FEB 2010. This may kill the Drug Court program as many in Drug Court (especially struggling new participants) are likely to just take their 60 days and walk out, not to mention that defense attys don't have much incentive to sell the program to their clients anymore. Why do an intensive treatment program with a Prob Officer breathing down your neck when you can just take a 60 day sentence and be done with it?

  • Art (unverified)

    This from the rich white guy who used his office to try to get leniency for a criminal from a powerful family (Randy Richardson) after Richardson was convicted of elder abuse of an African-American family. The people most victimized are in fact the poor and minorities. Let's ask them what the sentence should be for the person who ruins their life.

  • Boats (unverified)

    More aggressive location and deportation of illegal aliens would drop the crime rate in my community by at least half and if nothing else end a lot of the grafitti. Holder and his boss are not smart enough to agree.

  • Joel H (unverified)

    It's hard to take this seriously when the administration blanketly refuses to discuss ending Prohibition.

  • (Show?)

    How about ending the war on drugs and treating substance abuse like a health issue?

    (Boats, I'll just preempt your predictable rant about stoned leftist hippies: ending the WOD is what a no less conservative group than the editorial board at the National Review called for almost 20 years ago--it was a good idea then and a better one today now that poppies are funding our major adversary in the Afghan war, to name one.)

    Ending prohibition would help us domestically and internationally. All it requires is honesty and guts, but of course this is a country where Congress expressly forbids federal funding of needle exchange, so it's clear what the odds are.

  • Boats (unverified)

    Dude I backed ending the WOD on these pages early last month.

    Now if I could just find some liberal who were serious about border security.

  • Arwen Bird (unverified)

    I am glad that AG Holder is willing to talk about what creates safety in a broader sense. It's refreshing to see a national leader be honest about what incarceration in costing us and what we get in return.

    As a survivor and having worked with survivors of trauma and violence over the years--most of us just want the person who hurt us not to hurt another person. Incarceration alone doesn't guarantee that, we need a more comprehensive approach that includes addiction treatment (as some of you have already noted), increased mental health services, health care and housing under what creates safety in communities. I am glad that AG Holder and Rep. Shields recognize the need for a discussion, beyond prison, of what creates safety in communities.

    Thanks for posting this excerpt and links!

  • Robert Harris (unverified)

    I think more people are coming to understand that the job of law enforcement is to promote public safety while "tough on crime" simply means locking people up, and is not a comprehensive public safety plan. There's a difference. Let me explain.

    Public safety is, I believe, the ultimate goal of law enforcement. Fewer crimes. Fewer victims. Safer streets. We shouldn't care too much how we achieve that goal. Whether its through locking fewer, or more, people up. Or locking up fewer people for longer periods of time. Or by Providing job training or more, or different, drug and alcohol treatment.

    But from an objective viewpoint, we do need to know what works best for the lowest cost. Because budgets are realities. So a comprehensive study of evidence based sentencing outcomes is necessary.

    Unfortunately the tough on crime folks have come to confuse the goal, public safety, with a single tool to achieve the goal. Whether thats because they've decided that punitive sanctions are the only thing that works, or at least works best.(though I believe they wouldn't treat their own children, brothers, parents that way) Or perhaps because they believe in retribution for the catharsis it provides to society and the victims. Probably some of both. (And frankly victim and societal catharsis and sense of justice is a subjective criteria I would agree a court should take into consideration in a case by case basis)

    There are many Dep DA's that I deal with who genuinely and honestly feel that programs are a waste of time and money. They regularly argue that defendants shouldn't even be eligible for programs, or that their sentences shouldn't be reduced if they participate in programs.

    Unfortunatley some of these same people tend to scoff at the idea of getting the best studies and research to see what actually does reduce recidivism and prevents crime. They beleive that the people who produce those studies have a bias against incarceration. (Hence the personal attacks you sometimes see)

    This is about public safety. Not tough on crime. If someone asks if you're tough on crime, answer that...... jail is absolutely a tool to promote public safety. But the goal is public safety, wouldn't you agree? Safer streets. Fewer victims. And I also think we should figure out what other tools are the most effective at reducing repeat offenders. Wouldn't you agree? Then if it turns out that drug treatment works best for a certain group of offenders, we can save that jail space for the worst offenders who should never get out again, like maybe repeat serial pedophiles. Wouldn't you agree? You don't want them to get out because of jail overcrowding, wouldn't you agree?

    When you think about it, Saying that you're tough on crime is like a carpenter calling him/her self a hammerer. Hammering is tool used to build a house. But the goal is to build a strong, safe house. Not see how many nails you can put into the framing. If you spend all your time and money on nails, how can you afford the shingles to keep the rain out, or the storm windows to keep the wind out? In the end, Hammerers don't build very good houses.

    So lets make clear that progressives have a goal of public safety, utilizing all the tool at their disposal to maximize safety based on research and evidence based sentencing taking into account the budget taxpayers have approved. Tough on crimers have a goal of locking as many people up as they can because they feel that it will make our streets safer and hoping that the taxpayer will continue to build more prisons and jails.

    We can be carpenters. Not hammerers.

  • Lou Jellyfinger (unverified)

    The numbers on incarceration have just been published again and again the usa leads the world with 25% of the prisoners in the world but only 5% of the population. We apparently have the worst society in the world. Makes one proud to live in the land of the free and the home of the bestest police force in the whole wide world. Jackboots and all.

  • Brittancus (unverified)

    The ripples have started before the major storm. WE MUST BE ON OUR GUARD?

    More than ever before, this is the time to ignite the major issues under the feet of all politicians. We need the extraction process of mandated E-Verify composite of the SAVE ACT; to remove illegal labor from the workplace in all businesses Gathered together with local police detainment 287(g), the NO MATCH Social Security law and not to weaken ICE raids. All patriotic Americans who believe in a pro-sovereignty, anti-illegal immigrant must contact their arrogant pandering lawmakers, demanding no amnesty, no chain migration and build the border fence according two original specifications. American Workers and the general public must fight against abhorrent special interest groups, such as US chamber of Commerce, ACLU, La Raza, Council of Foreign Relations, ImmigrationWorksUSA and many more. Say--NO--to ACORN INVOLVED IN THE 2010 CENSUS. Sen. Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi are the American Workers worst enemies?

    That SANCTUARY STATES like California must rescind illegal immigrant refuge policies. That President Obama's health care renewal plan—WILL--attract millions more impoverished people from around the world. That they can join with the 20 plus million already here, to get free medical care under the Democrats law now passing through Congress. MY QUESTION IS! WHY SHOULD TAXPAYERS SUPPORT THE ILLEGAL LABOR FOR THE PARASITE CORPORATE ENTITIES ACROSS AMERICA? CALL TODAY AND GIVE POLITICIANS AT 202-224-3121 YOUR CRESCENDO OF FRUSTRATION? THAT'S ALL THEY UNDERSTAND--WHEN THEIR JOBS ARE IN PERIL. GOOGLE NUMBERSUSA AND JUDICIALWATCH TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CORRUPTION AND PROFITEERING FROM BOTH PARTIES. OVERPOPULATION will be the irreversible consequences of mass immigration.

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