Saturday, April 30, 2016

GateHouse: President Obama takes on criminal justice reform

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
April 29, 2016
This week is National Reentry Week. Reentry is a correctional term of art that encompasses the release of prisoners in federal, state and local lock-ups who are making the transition from prison to the community.
President Barack Obama chose this week to unveil a series of federal initiatives designed to model a new framework for prisoner reentry in the United States. The initiatives are being touted as important steps to alleviate the devastating consequences of mass incarceration.
The Obama administration, believes using evidence-based practices can reduce crime by 16 percent and reduce criminal justice spending by a whopping $10 billion.
A new report from the Council of Economic Advisers offers criminal justice reforms that center on the economic gains to be had from reducing the prison population, increasing the number of police on the street, providing for expanded reentry opportunities and investing in cutting-edge policing tactics.
President Obama’s plan has some similarities to Justice Reinvestment Initiatives enacted in 27 states. Justice Reinvestment is a data-driven approach to improve public safety, examine corrections and related criminal justice spending; manage and allocate criminal justice populations in a more cost-effective manner; and reinvest savings in strategies that can hold offenders accountable and decrease crime.
According to the Georgetown Public Policy Review, the reviews are mixed on state Justice Reinvestment. The Policy Review found “significant costs savings have yet to materialize for justice reinvestment programs on the whole. Justice Reinvestment states were slightly less likely to reduce annual costs as compared to non-justice reinvestment states.”
The Policy Review found that from 2006-2013 justice reinvestment states were only .125 times more likely to reduce prison expenditures than increase expenditures while non-justice reinvestment states were .136 times as likely to reduce expenditures.
“The (Obama) Administration is committed to a holistic approach to criminal justice reform that creates a fairer and smarter system in the community, the cell block and the courtroom,” the report suggested.
America incarcerates more people for longer periods of time than any other country in the world and though incarceration played a role in reducing violent crime to near record lows, it has cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
According to the report, “A large body of economic research shows that incarceration has only a small impact on crime reduction, and that this impact diminishes as the incarcerated population grows. Instead, the surge in incarceration has been driven by changes in criminal justice policies.”
Beginning in the 1960s crime became a political prop. As the Republican Party effectively used crime to elect local, state and national candidates, politicians of all persuasions wanted the label “tough on crime.” Even Senator Bernie Sanders, a so called Democratic-Socialist running a competitive campaign for president, voted for President Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill that has been blamed, in part, for soaring prison populations.
Politicians ignored the effects of their proposed policies in the 1980s and 1990s. Today the result of those policies is the enormous personal and financial cost of mass incarceration.
The report suggests some innovative ways of reducing crime. The authors forecast that hiking the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $12 would reduce crime by 3 percent to 5 percent, as fewer people would be forced to turn to illegal activity to make ends meet. By contrast, according to the Washington Post, spending an additional $10 billion on incarceration would reduce crime by only 1 percent to 4 percent.
The incarceration trends of the last decade cannot be sustained. If President Obama’s legacy is to include some success in dealing with an overcrowded and racially disproportionate correction system he and his advisers need to work fast.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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