MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Cops and Prosecutors Want Fewer People in Prison

A new law enforcement group favors abolishing mandatory minimums, changing felonies to misdemeanors, and winnowing down petty offenses.

NYPDNYPDThe New York Times reports that a new group of "more than 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs" today will unveil recommendations aimed at reducing the size of the U.S. prison population. Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration (LELRCI), which includes big-city police chiefs such as New York's William Bratton, Chicago's Garry McCarthy, and L.A.'s Charlie Beck, believes "too many people are behind bars [who] don't belong there." The organization, which was assembled with help from the Brennan Center for Justice, opposes mandatory minimum sentences, wants legislators to decriminalize some petty offenses, and favors changing some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.

"We're talking about using a scarce resource—beds in jails and prisons—in the most effective way," LELCRI member Benjamin David, a North Carolina prosecutor, told the Times. "I would say to people, 'Who would you rather have in there—a bank robber or an addict who is aggressively panhandling downtown?' This is not a political issue; it is a moral issue."

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., a member of LELRCI's steering committee, said the group represents an emerging bipartisan consensus on criminal justice reform. "We are in the middle of a sea change focusing on who is in our prisons, why are they in there, and who is making the decisions," he told the Times. "At the end of the day, this is just common sense. This is nothing radical."

That's too bad. LELCRI does not sound nearly as bold as, say, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (which also has a much better acronym). But the fact that abolishing mandatory minimums no longer counts as a radical idea is encouraging, and support for sentencing reform from prominent law enforcement officials should help counter resistance from organizations such as the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

Addendum: Although the Times describes "ending mandatory minimum prison sentences" as one of LELCRI's goals, the organization's "Statement of Principles" only recommends "reforming mandatory minimum laws, especially for drug and nonviolent offenses." It calls upon Congress and state legislatures to "reduce mandatory minimum sentences set by law" and "also reduce maximum sentences."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • d3x / dt3||

    Too much money to be made for any of this to change.

  • Quixote||

    More importantly, too much money is being spent for us to back down from our current delicate position regarding this issue. Here in New York we have spent at least a million dollars working to incarcerate the Dead "Sea Scrolls provocateur" at Rikers Island—so clearly, now, as Cyrus Vance says, there's nothing radical about this, and it's just common sense that we need to open up more space in our jails to make room for other recalcitrant Internet abusers who need to be shut away. For further information on our ongoing efforts to transform popular conceptions of "who belongs" in Rikers, see the documentation of America's leading criminal "satire" case at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • Quixote||

    P.s. as readers can see, there is a small lapsus in my comment above, reflecting my personal belief that certain Internet provocateurs, particularly ones who disrupt the peace and quiet of academic environments, should be punished far more stringently than is currently the case in America, with far lengthier prison terms and even with death when necessary.

  • WTF||

    A new law enforcement group favors abolishing mandatory minimums, changing felonies to misdemeanors, and winnowing down petty offenses.

    If prosecutors don't have all of this to overcharge with, how are they supposed to get convictions without going to trial?

  • Woodchipper of the Apocalypse||

    You gotta think outside the box. Turn some felonies into misdemeanors and jack up the fines. You can raise more than enough cash this way to completely re-outfit your entire SWAT team with the latest military hardware. And you can still use the SWAT team to go issue the fines too, you know, just in case the scofflaw has a scary dog in his yard.

  • Woodchipper of the Apocalypse||

    And I deserve a fine for replying to WTF's post instead of d3x / dt3's above.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Unless they're coming to Washington with truckloads of cash, don't bother.

  • some guy||

    We're talking about using a scarce resource—beds in jails and prisons—in the most effective way

    Yeah, this has nothing to do with justice. It's just a matter of efficiency. I guess it's better than nothing...

  • Mrs. Lemuel Struthers||

  • Florida Man||

    Li, on another one of his Pika spotting expeditions, was able to snap the photos above. According to him, the species numbered around 2,900 at the time of their discovery. Now, their numbers are down to less than a thousand, most likely due to human activity and climate change.

    I have no facts or ideas so ... HUMANZ, CLIMATE CHANGE!!!
    -science

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    Our climate changed from freezing fucking cold and dry to warm and rainy yesterday.

    I mean, WEATHER IS NOT CLIMATE!

  • Vapourwear||

    If it's so elusive, how are these people talking with such certainty about the population numbers...

    "We haven't seen one in 20 years, but damnit we counted every last one."

    Unreal.

  • Mrs. Lemuel Struthers||

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    A de facto rodent. Go get 'em, Climate Change!

  • Florida Man||

    How will we reach utopia if we limit the number of boots on necks?!?

  • AlmightyJB||

    Coos want less people going to prison? So that's why theyre shooting them.

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    hth

    We are winning! BOOYAH!

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    Cops and Prosecutors Want Fewer People in Prison

    YOU LIE!

    /Joe Wilson

  • straffinrun||

    Why build more prisons when you can just put them in hospital, shackle them to the bad and let cancer kill them?

  • Rich||

    shackle them to the bad

    I like it!

  • straffinrun||

    Typo, sorry. "bad" was supposed to say "Amsoc".

  • Rich||

    'Who would you rather have in there—a bank robber or an addict who is aggressively panhandling downtown?'

    Ima say 'a bank robber'. Who would *you* rather have in there—a bank robber or a person who violates their oath to support and defend the Constitution?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Why do I immediately assume their real aim is to generate more income from fines?

  • Rt. Hon. Judge Woodrow Chipper||

    Exactly my thought. Garry McCarthy could easily tell his officers NOT to bust people for pot, but every Chicago cop I know is happy when they see a bag of dope on the front seat of a car they pull over.

    All they want want is the asset seizure without the next step of actually arresting someone and then prosecuting them. Because some judges are sick of their shit bringing in dope after dope case when the majority of Americans want it legalized.

  • R C Dean||

    Ah, the passive voice. Ever the policeman's friend:

    (LELRCI), which includes big-city police chiefs such as New York's William Bratton, Chicago's Garry McCarthy, and L.A.'s Charlie Beck, believes "too many people are behind bars [who] don't belong there."

    "We have no idea who put them behind bars. Its a total mystery."

  • woodNfish||

    I think mandatory sentencing is a bad idea, and that the government mafia controls way too much of our lives. However, considering that the legal system is totally corrupt from the cops to prosecutors, Judges, lawyers and the legislators who write the laws I don't trust them to do right trying to reform anything either. It always ends up costing more money, making things worse if even changing them at all, and turns out to be just another government cluster fuck. I say we just nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. (Of course Iran may take care of this for us since our dumbass criminal government paved the way for them.)

  • sudon't||

    "Who would you rather have in there—a bank robber or an addict who is aggressively panhandling downtown?"

    If by "bank robber" you mean bankers...why, yes, I'd rather have them in there.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online