Posts tagged ‘Kent Scheidegger’

Paul Mirengoff's Dangrous and Misguided Article on Leniency and Recidivism

Over at Powerline Paul Mirengoff writes:

Last week, the Department of Justice released an updated study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showing that 83 percent of prisoners released by states are re-arrested within nine years of their release. 44 percent of released state prisoners were arrested during the first year after release, 68 percent were arrested within three years, and 79 percent within six years.

The study encompassed 30 states and accounted for 77 percent of all persons released from state prisons nationwide during the period under study. Daniel Horowitz discusses the studyhere. Kent Scheidegger does so here.

The results of the study should deter the Senate from embracing the FIRST STEP legislationpassed by the House just before the BJS figures were published. Indeed, the BJS numbers undermine FIRST STEP in multiple ways....

As I argued here, the FIRST STEP bill is just that — a first step to the release of thousands of additional prisoners. It’s also a first step to shorter mandatory minimum sentences. Thus, FIRST STEP is the first step to a crime wave....

But even if there is no second step, the BJS numbers show that FIRST STEP means more crime sooner. That’s what any Senator who supports FIRST STEP is voting for.

Second, the BJS study tells us that the crimes that federal drug felons will commit aren’t confined to drug crimes. According to the study, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of released drug offenders were arrested for a non-drug crime within nine years, and more than a third (34 percent) were arrested for a violent crime.

So much for the argument we hear over and over again from Team Leniency that those incarcerated for drug crimes are “non-violent offenders.” As Daniel Horowitz puts it, “when you let out drug offenders early from prison in this era, they will not only go back to selling even deadlier drugs, killing thousands, they will also commit other crimes” including overtly violent ones.

I understand this is right in the Conservative "civilization vs. barbarism" wheelhouse, so the article is unsurprising.  But I think it includes, at a minimum, one dangerous principle and one deeply flawed assumption.

Dangerous Principle:  By justifying longer prison terms based on potential future recidivism, we are in fact proposing to punish people for future crimes they not only haven't been convicted of, but which they have not even committed.   If I were to walk into a busy street today, shoot 20 people, then lay down my gun and get arrested, you know what I am at that moment under the law?  I am innocent until I am proven guilty.  If I am legally innocent in that situation, I am certainly innocent of some hypothetical crime 10 years in the future.  Assuming that I should be punished for this pre-crime violates every rule of due process -- which Mr. Mirengoff has called a "right" in other contexts.  Taken to its logical extreme, this idea of recidivism as a justification for longer sentences would imply that we incarcerate everyone for every crime for life -- then recidivism rates would drop to zero!

Deeply Flawed Assumption:  The underlying assumption here seems to be that there is some sort of criminal gene at work, that these folks are chosen by birth or circumstances to be criminals in an almost Calvinist dynamic.  As such, in this model, minor crimes are merely markers to a tendency to commit larger crimes later.  Look, I understand that there are people who are just bad -- heck, my dad was on the Unibomber's target list so you don't have to explain the existence of evil to me.  But it is really misguided to assume that prison itself has nothing to do with future criminal activity, particularly in the case of first-time non-violent drug offenders.

We take these people who were selling some grass or their leftover pain pill prescription and we throw them into a camp for several years that is populated only with felons.  You sleep with felons and you shower with felons and the only people you have to talk to all day are felons.  Is it really so remarkable that after being thrown into a criminal frat house for a few years, some people might have more criminal tendencies when they leave than when they enter?  And then after they leave, they are met at every turn with the brand of being an ex-felon, making it hard to get a job or do things we take for granted.  So we put someone away in a training camp for criminals for a few years, and then make it really, really hard for them to find good paying ways to support themselves afterward, and we are surprised they go back to crime?

I have a guy, who I won't name for privacy reasons, who works for me in Arizona.  Over 10 years ago, barely over 18, he was convicted of some non-violent drug crimes and locked away.  Had I done the same things in my youth, my rich dad likely would have kept me out of jail but as a poor Hispanic in the world of Sheriff Joe's Phoenix, he went to jail.  Over ten plus years later, he had a stable marriage and had his civil rights restored, but was still mostly doing minimum wage labor.   He has been a good, reliable maintenance person at one of our campgrounds, in a job where he could work with his wife.  One day a customer got in some sort of dispute with this man's wife, looked him up online, and found he had a prison record.   This customer then started sending me messages that I must fire this person immediately or else this customer would file suit against us for creating a dangerous environment for her.  When I refused, she then started posting yard signs around town that we hired felons and telling people on social media that they needed to shun our maintenance guy in any number of ways and accusing him of running a narcotics ring out of the campground.

This is the kind of crap that non-violent drug offenders face their entire lives.  And you wonder why some of them, after finding no work and being shunned by civil society, might turn to crime?  Were they really destined to be criminals, or did we make them that way?  And what about this gets any better if we leave them in federal crime school for a few more years?