Criminal Justice

Attorney General Nominee William Barr Defends Long Prison Sentences, But Says He's Open to Reforms

"As a system, it's working," Barr says of the criminal justice system. "It's not predicated on racism."

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

In a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Justice Department, former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, defended his role in the harsh mandatory minimum sentences that led to mass incarceration, but said he was open to sentencing reforms like those recently passed by Congress.

"During your previous tenure as attorney general, you literally wrote the book on mass incarceration or wrote this report," likely 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.) said to Barr, referring to a 1992 Justice Department memo, "The Case for More Incarceration."

"Do you think, just yes or no, that this system of mass incarceration has disproportionately benefited African American communities?" Booker asked.

"I think that the heavy drug penalties, especially on crack and other things, have harmed the black community, the incarceration rates on the black community," Barr replied.

However, Barr characterized those laws throughout the hearing as a product of their time, and he also credited those long sentences for violent offenders with the historically low rates of crime American is now enjoying.

"I don't think comparing the policies that were in effect in 1992 to the situation now is really fair," Barr told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa).

Barr also said that the 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine was partly a result of calls from communities being ravaged by crack for more action from the government.

"From my perspective the very draconian penalties on crack were put in place initially because when the crack epidemic first hit, it was like nuclear weapons going off in inner cities," Barr told Sen. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.). "The initially reaction was actually trying to help those communities. Over time, those same leaders are now saying to us, 'This is devastating. Generations of us have been incarcerated.' And we should listen to the same people we were listening to before."

However, in a particularly interesting exchange, Booker pressed Barr on whether systemic racism existed in the criminal justice system, which Barr denied:

BOOKER: When you talk about Chicago in the way you just did, it brings up racial fears or racial concerns, and you stated that if a black and a white—and this is quoting you directly—are charged with the same offense, generally, they will get the same treatment in the system, and ultimately the same penalty. You previously quoted, and I'm quoting you again, there's no statistical evidence of racism in the criminal justice system. So you still believe in that?

BARR: No, what I said was that—I think that's taken out of a broader quote, which is, the whole criminal justice system involves both the federal but also state and local justice systems. And I said there is no doubt that there are places where there if racism still in the system,. But I said overall, I thought as a system, it's working. It's not predicated on racism.

In response to questions from several Republican and Democratic senators, Barr assured them he would diligently implement the recently enacted FIRST STEP Act, although he repeated his commitment "keep up the pressure on chronic, violent criminals." Barr's openness—or at least his stated openness—to some sentencing reforms is a notable departure from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was one of the staunchest defenders of mandatory minimum sentencing.

Many criminal justice advocates, though, have opposed Barr's nomination based on his previous record on mass incarceration. "William Barr's record suggests that he will follow Jeff Sessions' legacy of hostility to civil rights and civil liberties," Faiz Shakir, American Civil Liberties Union national political director, said in a statement after Barr's appointment was announced.

"It's hard to imagine an attorney general as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one," Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance told PBS NewsHour.

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  1. Ugh, OF COURSE there’s racism in the American justice system. Just like there is in the education system, health care system, economy, and literally everything else in this white supremacist country. Did this Barr guy even go to college? Like 3 / 4 of my classes were about describing how racist the US is.

    #BlackLivesMatter
    #WhiteAlly

    1. Howdy Ho, OBL!

      How have you been?

      #OBLismyfriend

      1. Things have been kind of rough for me, to be honest. For instance last week somebody misgendered me by calling me “sir” just because I have hair on my face.

        But I’m trying to remain optimistic because 2019 will be the year Robert Mueller and the Democratic House finally remove the illegitimate Russian puppet government in Washington DC.

        1. OBL is the shining light of woke Libertarianism.

          We need more of his kind.

          1. this kind! this kind! I swear I meant to type “this kind”!

            I hope I didn’t offend!

            1. You corrected yourself within a minute. No need to worry.

        2. Did you cut your dick off?

          1. In the olden times that was called shaving, something the Gillette brand is trying to bring back for men.

          2. Presence or absence of a penis or a vagina has absolutely nothing to do with gender. Humans with penises can often be transwomen or non-binary. I’m non-binary (they / them).

            Read a science book.

            1. Which science book do you recommend?

    2. Just like a white guy to think you can be an ally!

  2. In a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Justice Department, former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, defended his role in the harsh mandatory minimum sentences that led to mass incarceration, but said he was open to sentencing reforms like those recently passed by Congress.

    “During your previous tenure as attorney general, you literally wrote the book on mass incarceration or wrote this report,” likely 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D?N.J.) said to Barr, referring to a 1992 Justice Department memo, “The Case for More Incarceration.”

    “Do you think, just yes or no, that this system of mass incarceration has disproportionately benefited African American communities?” Booker asked.

    He wrote the book that Bill Clinton followed when he signed those harsher federal laws?

  3. He’s long in the tooth but at least he’s not Ted Nugent.

    1. Remembering that time we didn’t have a gun, a knife, handkerchief, or Chap-Stick and had to get the fuck out?

  4. But I said overall, I thought as a system, it’s working.

    From the prison union’s perspective.

  5. Barr is a drug warrior. At least one of his daughters is a drug warrior. These right-wing authoritarians should be compelled to try to find decent livelihoods and encouraged to develop better character.

    1. Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland|1.15.19 @ 8:01PM|#
      “Barr is a drug warrior. At least one of his daughters is a drug warrior. These right-wing authoritarians should be compelled to try to find decent livelihoods and encouraged to develop better character.”

      And as a specialist in assholery, I’m sure you were covering this like a blanket:
      “President Obama Could Re-Schedule Marijuana”
      […]
      “While President Obama is positive marijuana will continue to be legalized on a state-by-state basis throughout the course of the next few years, the leader of the free world gave no indication during a recent YouTube interview that the federal government plans to end prohibition anytime in the immediate future. Instead, he offered up a modest dose of the usual swill that Americans have grown accustomed to hearing from the White House regarding the reform of national pot policies: A heavy emphasis on state’s rights as opposed to the nationwide repeal of a law that suggests weed is as dangerous as heroin.”
      https://hightimes.com/news/politics/
      president-obama-could-re-
      schedule-marijuana/

      Fortunately, that lying piece of shit is now out of office.

  6. I’m cool with long prison sentences…….. for all the traitor democrats he better be prosecuting after he takes the job. Maybe execute a few. He would totally be my hero if he successfully prosecuted the entire Soto’s family for a variety of crimes.

    1. Are Democrats traitors because they’re not sucking Putin’s cock?

      1. And exactly who is doing this sucking because there is absolutely zero proof that Trump is in bed with any Russians.
        However I do remember distinctly Obama making the statement to the Russian ambassador that he ‘will have more flexibility after the election’ just before Russia invaded Georgia.
        Could you remind us exactly what Obama’s response was to Russia’s action.
        Actually, I remember. It was absolutely NOTHING. He acted as if Putin was pulling his strings.
        It certainly looks far more likely that it was Obama who is doing the sucking.
        Obama was the worst president America ever had bar none. America was a far more divided country after he left office than when he started. Communities were torn apart by his intersectional agenda. He pitched blacks as victims as well as women as the LGBT.
        He left a screwed up mess in his wake and took the civil rights and feminist movements back 50 years. Obama was a disaster by every single definition and measurement.
        He also completely politicised the FBI, CIA and DOJ. Organisations which were apolitical before he took office.
        He, and his blinkered supporters should hang their heads in shame.

  7. This guy is in line with recent changes to the LP platform. If someone murders a bunch of people and is caught red-handed or confesses, we get taxed to support them for the longest time–unless the new plank really means paying a freelance Kurt Russell hangman to string ’em up.

  8. Congratulations to the best living libertarian writer Shikha Dalmia on her new piece in the New York Times!

    Actually, the Numbers Show That We Need More Immigration, Not Less

    This is an important step in strengthening the progressive / libertarian alliance. I believe progressive NYT readers will be quite receptive to the Koch / Reason immigration agenda as presented by its most eloquent advocate.

    1. I suppose data is not as convincing as the argument “We don’t want yer kind here, yeehaw!”

      1. Current 15 minutes progressive darling AOC agrees that feels > facts. “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

        1. ACO is what, like 15 years old?

    2. The liberal-libertarian alliance has been strong enough to reduce conservatives to whining, inconsequential losers in America throughout the entirety of our lifetimes. No need to strengthen anything. Just continue to watch American progress crush the stale, ugly aspirations of authoritarian, bigoted, half-educated, downscale right-wingers.

  9. You have to remember that much of the criminal justice system is actually staffed by minorities. Meaning that if it is racist then they have only themselves to blame. There’s no way to force minorities to treat their own people better, and I doubt you’d want them to be trained to treat white guys worse. Anything you attempt is likely to backfire. In my own limited experience, people were treated fairly, including those who maybe didn’t deserve to be. Of course mandatory minimums end up with racist outcomes. But the communities demanded them and had to learn their lesson the hard way. Another big problem is that probation can last a few years, and if during that time you get picked up for something then things can start to spiral out of control quickly. One guy told a story of how some girls at a bar got into a fight, and he got picked up just because he had a recent record. Well of course you don’t know the whole story. But the fact is, he went to the bar. Bad idea. You need to just stay home or go to church or something. Sad but that’s life. People try to get you into trouble when they know you have record (including ‘friends’ and family in some cases) so you have to keep a low profile. But this is more difficult in minority communities because the culture is different. Don’t blame ‘racism’.

    1. “Staffed by minorities.”

      Everyone I know is a minority. Not sure where you are going here.

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  11. Seriously another deep state retread?

  12. Here’s the thing: Some harsh sentences make sense. Others very much don’t.

    Giving people 20 years in prison for jay walking doesn’t make sense. Neither does doing that for somebody who got caught with a modest amount of weed.

    But 6 months for somebody convicted of rape or murder doesn’t make sense either.

    In short, harsh sentences for ACTUAL bad shit is probably a good thing. Whether or not it rehabilitates anybody is debatable, but keeping those people away from civilized human beings does make the world nicer for people in the world outside, albeit at great expense.

    We need to lessen sentences for crimes that don’t need long sentences, and hold steady or get harsher on things that are legit bad. Simple as that.

    As for disproportionate rates of crime… Sorry, it’s mostly just that minorities commit more crimes. Maybe blacks do get busted for weed more often, because there are more cops in their hood, because there are more serious crimes going on there… But the cops don’t pin random murder and assault charges on random blacks for kicks, and they still get in trouble for that shit vastly more often than whites/Asians. So between that, and my personal life experience, I think most of the disparities are because of disparities in the amount of crimes committed.

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  14. 1. OK Barr, I guess for definitions of ‘working’ that include ‘destroying people’s lives for fun and profit’ its working.

    2. You’re right that its not *predicated* on racism – its easier to destroy the lives of the powerless and that they happen to be mostly minorities is just an unhappy coincidence. So carry on then.

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