Eric Holder Condemns Mass Incarceration (Again)

Yesterday Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated the concerns about mass incarceration that he expressed when he unveiled his "Smart on Crime" initiative last August. Speaking at a conference of public security officials in Medellin, Colombia, Holder reflected on America's dubious achievements in the field of locking people in cages:

The path we are currently on is far from sustainable.  As we speak, roughly one out of every 100 American adults is behind bars.  Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world's population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.  While few would dispute the fact that incarceration has a role to play in any comprehensive public safety strategy, it’s become evident that such widespread incarceration is both inadvisable and unsustainable. It requires that we routinely spend billions of dollars on prison construction—and tens of billions more, on an annual basis, to house those who are convicted of crimes.  It carries both human and moral costs that are too much to bear.  And it results in far too many Americans serving too much time in too many prisons—and beyond the point of serving any good law enforcement reason.

Drug Policy Foundation Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann comments:

I have to admit it's a strange feeling, at once wonderful and wary, when the attorney general of the United States tells an audience of security ministers—at a conference in a foreign country—that there’s something fundamentally wrong with incarcerating so many people in his own country. The Obama administration’s rhetorical shift can be criticized as too little and too late, but its historic significance cannot be denied.  Let's just hope that this new rhetoric truly translates into new policies.

I expressed similar sentiments in a column last summer.

Today the Brennan Center for Justice released a report that suggests one way of curbing the over-incarceration that Holder deplores: by reforming the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, the biggest source of federal aid to local law enforcement agencies, so that it does not encourage cops to measure their success by arrests:

Current measures inadvertently incentivize unwise policy choices. Federal officials ask states to report the number of arrests, but not whether the crime rate dropped. They measure the amount of cocaine seized, but not whether arrestees were screened for drug addiction. They tally the number of cases prosecuted, but not whether prosecutors reduced the number of petty crime offenders sent to prison. In short, today's JAG performance measures fail to show whether the programs it funds have achieved "success:" improving public safety without needless social costs. These measures send a signal to states and localities that the federal government desires more arrests, more cocaine busts, and more prosecutions at the expense of other more effective activities.

The report says the Obama administration could make meaningful changes without new legislation by revising the criteria for assessing grant recipents' performance. It does not mention that Barack Obama, who as a presidential candidate worried about the size of our prison system and the racially disproportionate impact of the war on drugs, nevertheless has been a big booster of the Byrne grant program, which has fueled the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders and funded the regional task forces behind racially tinged law enforcement scandals in places such as Tulia, Texas.

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  • CatoTheElder||

    The Obama administration’s rhetorical shift can be criticized as too little and too late, but its historic significance cannot be denied

    I deny any historical significance whatsoever until Holder actually does something significant.

    All to often these bozos get credit for just flapping their gums and spouting lies.

  • Sevo||

    "I deny any historical significance whatsoever until Holder actually does something significant."

    Exactly. See: "You can keep..."

  • Hugh Akston||

    Agreed. I will give the Concern Troll in Chief due credit when he stops talking about what a travesty it is that so many people are locked up for nonviolent offenses, and starts actually releasing them from prison.

  • Tony||

    You won't give him credit for anything, ever.

  • Acosmist||

    Nice of you to admit he'll never do anything about the problem.

  • Tony||

    What would you like him to do?

    You guys do realize that if Nancy Pelosi were speaker, we could get like half of your priorities accomplished. Yeah, we'd regress on tax rates for the rich, but boohoo.

  • Paul.||

    What would you like him to do?

    Retire.

  • ||

    What would you like him to do??

    Set up a review program and get about pardoning non-violent drug offenders.

    Amazing how he'll stretch the limits of his authority when it comes to healthcare and immigration but can't be bothered to take the much less controversial step of using his pardoning powers to rectify some egregious examples of injustice.

  • Sevo||

    "You guys do realize that if Nancy Pelosi were speaker, we could get like half of your priorities accomplished."

    East coast, 6PM Friday. Little early to be that much in the tank.

  • Tony||

    Which means 4 on Friday where I am, and I don't consider that remotely too early.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Tony|11.22.13 @ 5:48PM|#

    What would you like him to do?

    You guys do realize that if Nancy Pelosi were speaker, we could get like half of your priorities accomplished. Yeah, we'd regress on tax rates for the rich, but boohoo.

    Nancy Pelosi WAS speaker, for four years, two of them with a Dem president and Senate. Funny, we didn't seem to get anywhere NEAR half of our priorities accomplished; in fact, I'm pretty damn sure we regressed during that time.

    Do you have any integrity at all, or are you just a mindless fucking shill?

  • Tony||

    If only the Senate had gone nuclear then.

  • Generic Stranger||

    So mindless fucking shill it is, then. (Hint: The Senate had a filibuster-proof majority until 2010, and I didn't see a single goddamn libertarian action out of the Demecratic controlled congress at that time).

  • Acosmist||

    So "Obama is utterly useless and doesn't even try to do anything" is, and let me get this straight here, your DEFENSE of him.

    Holy...shit.

  • Jordan||

    What would you like him to do?

    Stop prosecuting drug cases. Boy, that was hard.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Because 2007 -2010 was libertopia.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Nancy Pelosi wouldn't do jack. She had her chance. The Democrats had three accomplishments when they controlled everything: an ill-conceived healthcare bill known as ObamaCare, an excessive and poorly implemented stimulus package of astronomical scale, and a bogus banking regulation bill. Four years later, the first is on life support and failing miserably. The second squandered hundreds of billions on bogus projects and lined the pockets of crony crapitalists. Over a trillion dollars spent without significant improvement in the country's infrastructure. The third senselessly misregulates financial markets even worse than before. The Democrats did nothing at all that was effective for ordinary working people except for passing out tax credits. And they did nothing at all for non-criminals languishing in prisons for victimless "crimes".

    But keep hang in there, Tony, with the Audacity of Hope™. Forward!™

    Comrade, Yes We Can™. We know Obama and Pelosi mean well even though they fuck things up worse than George Bush!

  • SweatingGin||

    Don't forget cash for clunkers! and nationalizing GM! And that stimulus brought fiber to every dog house in Michigan's UP!

    Surely there was something else thatI'm just forgetting...

  • Sevo||

    You guys pretty much covered it. And Tony is right; 4PM for him is late enough to be in the tank.

  • Rhywun||

    He won't have to.

  • Tony||

    I know that.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|11.22.13 @ 5:40PM|#
    "You won't give him credit for anything, ever."

    And I'm sure you think he's the bestest ever, right? Because, uh, let's see, uh...

  • Monkey's Uncle||

    Tony|11.22.13 @ 5:40PM|#

    You won't give him credit for anything, ever.

    You are correct.

  • CatoTheElder||

    No, we should give Obama credit when credit is due. For example, Obama awarded Oprah the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also decided to order US special forces to kill bin Laden in Pakistan. He deserves credit for these courageous decisions.

    He also ramrodded insanely defective healthcare legislation through Congress and signed it as President. His Administration has been solely responsible for its implementation. He deserves all the credit/blame for the consequences of ObamaCare. It's as absurd to blame conservatives and libertarians for its failures as it would be for them to insist upon receiving credit for allowing adult children to say on their parents insurance plans.

  • playa manhattan||

    Oh goody! Another speech!

  • The Other Kevin||

    It's Friday afternoon. What was today's major announcement?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Probably about Jlaw's new haircut.

  • ||

    Eric Holder denounces Prison Nation.

    Eric Holder...where have I heard that name before? What is his job again?

  • Paul.||

    You know who else had a last name that began with 'H' and ended with 'R'?

  • Monkey's Uncle||

    T.J. Hooker?

  • Monkey's Uncle||

    Herbert Hoover?

  • Monkey's Uncle||

    Joseph Heller?

  • Almanian!||

    Helen Keller?

  • Almanian!||

    Oops - that's "first and last". of course....

    Former Tigers pitcher John Hiller?

  • Alice Bowie||

    You want to hear something funny?

    I knew I was going to HATE Obama after I voted for him when he appointed Eric Holder.

  • Hugh Akston||

    That must be what people refer to as "Tina Fey funny".

  • Alice Bowie||

    I guess

  • Paul.||

    I laughed until I cried.

  • Sevo||

    I cried.

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    Und I did.

    ... Hobbit

  • Aresen||

    Would any of this be any different under a McCain or Romney administration?

    Aside from nuking Tehran, I mean?

  • Hugh Akston||

    The difference would be huge. See, a Team Blue administration talks about Prison Nation, but does nothing about it. A Team Red administration wouldn't even talk about it.

  • Paul.||

    One wears uniforms designed by Hugo Boss, the other doesn't.

  • Wintermute||

    Then why doesn't he call off the leftover rogue fascist US Attorneys from the Bush administration, fire them, and replace them?

  • Paul.||

    Are these the rogue fascist US Attorneys from the Bush administration that NPR was horrified that were being fired because they weren't playing Bush admin ball?

  • pan fried wylie||

    I really don't think we want Obama to take action on the over-incarceration problem. The Prison Performance and Accommodating Corrections Act would just mandate execution for all crimes.

  • Sevo||

    Yeah, when he says: "You can keep your life...", run for it!

  • ||

    Just indulge me here for a sec I'm so pissed.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11......html?_r=0

    A bunch of parochial PQ hacks here in Quebec compare their regressive takes on society with Jefferson.

    I'm still numb and speechless.

  • ||

    What's your opinion of writing to politicians? Is it worth it?

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Depends on how you pen it. Most of my writing has been a waste aside from one that seemed to resonate with a Columbus Ohio pol a few years back who has since been voted gone. Republican I believe. A few years back I had a little one about 4 years old with a nasty cold. Went to the local small town Walmart for a late night run for something to help the little one... that shelf was empty!!! I had to check in with a pharmacy that was closed! Because of newly adopted Ohio drug laws!! I'm a ghetto white boy. When I get pissed I want to break shit. Well, I went home, slept not a wink because my kid was sick as fuck and wrote the fucking politician a hardcore testiest letter to my local politician in Columbus Ohio. He wrote back the next morning... he said he also had a sick child and could not get medicine for the child and understood me completely...

    I can't remember his name... but since then meds for my children haven't been a single problem and I thank him for that... I hope he's reading this.

  • ||

    Yeah, that's bad. We just try and make sure there's Tylenol and other basics because you never know. Even here the pharmacies close at 10 pm. What happens afterwards?

  • Sevo||

    Rufus J. Firefly|11.22.13 @ 8:12PM|#
    "What's your opinion of writing to politicians? Is it worth it?"

    My experience, maybe 3-4 times when it was snail mail, got 'Thank you for your views, have you seen my latest bill? Vote for me' returns.
    Now I just fire off 'screw you' emails now and then.

  • ||

    That's what I want to do here.

    I want to tell those fuckers to fuck off. It's one thing to act like ignorant moronic, xenophobic fucks within your parochial borders and quite another to take that to the world and try and compare your actions to fucking Thomas Jefferson. It's retarded beyond belief.

  • JidaKida||

    Nothing like a black man on a power trip lol.

    www.VPN-Anon.tk

  • Sevo||

    Great! Anonbot's channeling 'murkin.

  • Copernicus||

    "Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world's population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners."

    Some thoughts:

    1. Like many posters above, stop whining you fuck (Holder), why don't you and your boss do something about it? Five fucking years already!! We all know the disparity between USA per capita prison rates and the other countries' is the harsh treatment of drug possession crimes and other non-violent crimes. What have you been doing about drug legalization for the last 5 years?

    2. About 2 million Americans in prison. Population of North Korea is 25 Million, and the whole country is a prison, so you might want to put your comments in context.

    3. Why does he even make a speech like this? It makes him look like the biggest asshole on the planet.

    4. Here's a stat: USA has only 5% of the world population but we've cornered the two biggest douches.

  • Sevo||

    "3. Why does he even make a speech like this? It makes him look like the biggest asshole on the planet."

    It's Friday.
    The Sat. editions of lefty press (say, the Chron) will have some 'good news' to push O'care disaster off the front page.

  • FlyingTooLow||

    I was in Federal Prison for cannabis offenses from 1981 until 1986.
    William French Smith was the US Attorney General at the time.

    Mr. Smith said something to the effect (I tried to find his quote but cannot): "Criminals belong in prison and they must stay in prison. We don't know how to rehabilitate criminals."

    When this fool made that comment, 53% of the Federal Prison population were in for drug offenses. Victimless crimes.

    Example: "Hey, I've got some pot for sale," said Dick.
    "I'll take five dollars’ worth," said Jane.

    Where's the victim?

    Both Dick and Jane are now added to the 'overcrowding' problem.

    How sick is that???

    I wrote of the escapades that led to prison...the book:

    'Shoulda Robbed a Bank' by Hugh Yonn...true story...

  • HarryUSA||

    Just put bars around the United States and turn us into a Penal Colony. Isn't that how Australia got started?

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