By Alfred Regnery, LE Action chairman
Backers of the criminal justice reform bill pending in Congress are intent on reducing the population of the federal prisons.
Their premise? Prisons are overflowing with minor drug offenders who have no reason to be incarcerated—“mass incarceration” is the term they like to use.
As many have pointed out, that premise is a lie. Less than one percent of the federal prison population is there for drug possession, and most of those pled down from a more serious offense.
But the left is intent on releasing prisoners anyway—mostly before their sentences run. Those to be let out, since there are so few minor offenders, are often violent multiple offenders, many of whom will start committing more crimes as soon as they are released.
Why, you might ask, are these liberals so anxious to turn violent criminals free? What is to be gained, you might wonder, by having these felons—many of whom will again be trafficking in drugs and committing violent crimes in the process—wandering around our cities, contributing to the heroin epidemic, and leaving thousands of victims in their wake?
Liberals just don’t think people should be punished. Crime, in their lexicon, is caused by social injustice. It’s a symptom of all the wrongs of modern society. Instead of punishing wrongdoers, liberals believe, we should cure them of the disease.
Their only guilt is that they got caught up in some unfortunate circumstance not of their making, and therefore it is unfair to hold them accountable and punish them.
In a telling move, just last week, the Obama administration sent a directive to colleges telling them not to ask applicants if they have a criminal history—it might stigmatize them—but to refer to them only as "justice-involved individuals."
Obama is busily releasing violent offenders from prison with Democrats in lock-step behind him. In 2010, when the Sentencing Commission retroactively cut sentences for crack-cocaine dealers, nearly 8,000 were released.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder ordered federal prosecutors not to charge certain drug offenders with mandatory minimums regardless of the amount of drugs they were selling, and two years ago ordered federal prosecutors not to object to requests from felons for reductions in their sentences.
And to cap it all off, the Sentencing Commission reduced guidelines for all drug traffickers, making the reduction retroactive to over 46,000 convicted drug traffickers serving sentences in federal prison, many of them multiple offenders who carried firearms at the time of arrest, eligible for early release.
Now proposed sentencing reform legislation, high on the Obama must-do list, would let thousands more drug traffickers and chronic violent offenders out of prison early.
The reform bill’s backers, which include some well-meaning but gullible Republicans, talk of the mass incarceration of low-level drug offenders—the prisons, they tell us, are full of marijuana users and others who shouldn’t be there.
"Sentencing reform" must move forward to save the taxpayers money and to let the minor offenders get back to their families and their jobs.
Trouble is, the federal prisons have only a handful of inmates incarcerated for drug possession. So, what to do?
Let out the violent offenders. Liberal criminologists acknowledge that in order to get the prison population down to where they think it should be, we must release violent offenders along with the lower level ones.
According to the Washington Post last October:
"The only way to lower [federal and state prison populations] dramatically would be to reduce the frequency and duration of imprisonment for violent crimes, while continuing to reduce violent crime itself."
And Fordham Law School professor John Pfaff, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post last July, wrote:
"At some point we are going to have to reduce the punishments that violent offenders face if we really want to cut our breathtaking prison population down to size."
A recent study by The Urban Institute, a left-of-center think tank and advocate of reducing the prison population on all fronts, concluded that reducing prison time for violent offenders in four states—Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island—by only 15 percent would reduce the number of inmates significantly more than cutting all drug admissions minor offenders as well as traffickers—by 50 percent.
As for the victims of new crimes committed by released felons, who have an astounding high recidivism rate? Just the price society (and the victims) has to pay to reduce "mass incarceration."
Democrats also want to undo their sins of the past. The legislation sending tens of thousands of offenders to prison—indeed, the legislation responsible for this "mass incarceration" was hatched, written and enacted—can you believe—by liberal Democrats. Not once. Not twice. But three times, liberals passed the bills that they now want to change—retroactively—because they have locked up too many criminals.
- First, the 1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, a product of the Johnson administration and enacted by a Democrat-controlled Congress, vastly increased the federal government’s involvement in crime control and criminal justice, taking it away from state and local governments. Described by the New Yorker in 1969 as "a piece of demagoguery devised out of malevolence and enacted in hysteria," it provided large sums of federal money to the police, and resulted in the construction of new prisons and the beginning of what liberals called the prison-industrial complex.
- Second, Senator Ted Kennedy, the favorite liberal of all time, introduced legislation to reform sentencing, particularly to reduce the discretion judges had in sentencing and parole. Kennedy’s bill was passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress in 1984 under the title of the Sentencing Reform Act; instead of having the impact that Kennedy had hoped, however, the bill, signed by Ronald Reagan, had the effect of giving judges the power to impose longer and harsher sentences to violent offenders—offenders who were most often minorities.
- Finally, Bill Clinton enthusiastically supported and signed into law the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, perhaps the most ambitious and far-reaching criminal justice bill of all time.
Providing billions of dollars for new prisons, money for 100,000 more police officers, enacting "three strikes and you’re out" provisions, mandatory minimums, and a host of other measures cracking down on criminal offenders, the law was, in the words of one critic, an attempt by Democrats to capture crime control from Republicans by proving how punitive they could be.
Supported by both Hillary Clinton—who also lobbied for it in Congress—and Bernie Sanders, and now the bane of the soft-on-crime crowd, Bill Clinton’s 1994 legislation is an embarrassment to Democrats.
If they can get it changed now, they’ll feel better about themselves, they might save Hillary, and they will further shrink the prison population.
Crime victims be damned.