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Why Ending Mass Incarceration Means Locking Up Fewer Violent Criminals: A Conversation with John Pfaff

Author of Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform talks about why ending the drug war isn't enough.

John PfaffAnthony L. FisherIn Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform, Fordham University law professor John Pfaff takes aim at the conventional wisdom that the war on drugs and race-based prosecution of it are the primary factors causing the U.S. prison populations to continually rise.

Pfaff's Twitter bio states (in part), "I'm not contrarian—the data is," which is a pretty apt summation of his focus on the "bottom up" causes of mass incarceration that seem to contradict what he calls "The Standard Story"—that mass incarceration is the result of top-down federal policies.

"The Standard Story" has been made most prominent by Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and the Oscar-nominated documentary 13th, and while Pfaff says he respects the efforts that went into these works, he counters such "deployment of rhetoric" by digging into the harder to rectify data which shows that mass incarceration is driven far more by local prosecutors than federal drug war policies, and it's not even close.

Reason spoke with Pfaff in a coffee shop near Fordham Law's Manhattan campus about why he never lets his students use the phrase "criminal justice system," why he never uses the phrase "violent offender," and why he's still optimistic about criminal justice reform in the era of President Donald Trump.

Reason: What are people who have gravitated toward Michelle Alexander's argument that mass incarceration is a direct consequence of the federal drug war missing?

Pfaff: I'm sympathetic to the argument but I think it still downplays the way which that rhetoric resonated in part because of violence. To frame it as the war on drugs suggests a very top down approach—framing this as a war on drugs. We could change our framing, redeploy our police officers, and we can shift things. I think the lessons of the war on drugs and punitive [sentencing] in general was more bottom up. The example I always point to is New York state. We passed and ratified drug laws in 1973. That was when New York state sort of declared its war on drugs. And the number of people in the New York state prison goes up slightly in the years after '73 and then it goes down. In 1984 there were actually fewer people in New York state prison for drugs than '73, so you have this huge rhetorical war on drugs being declared and local prosecutors just don't do anything with it. Then in the mid-1980s, there's this giant explosion of violence, and you see this huge rise in drug-related incarcerations which suggests to me that there is a substantial contextual component to this. Then, drug admissions start to decline in New York state in 1998, well before the real reforms in 2008.

Reason: And people were just catching up to the fact that crime was dropping, even in the public consciousness, in the late 1990s.

Pfaff: Exactly. I always like to point out the fact that there were actually more total people victimized by violent crime in 1990 than in the 1980s. I don't ever allow my students to use the phrase criminal justice system and I push back when people say the system does what it is designed to do because there isn't a system there. It's many systems. Police at the city level, the prosecutors at the county level, the parole boards at the state level.

Whether [Alexander] meant it as sort of a broader rhetorical push or not, it's been interpreted by people who've read it to mean that people in prison for drugs are driving our prison population. So I keep coming back repeatedly to this survey that Vox did. The question was do you think the majority of people are in prison for drugs? Sixty percent of all respondents across all three groups [liberal, moderate, conservative] said yes. Reformers like Alexander are saying it's the war on drugs that does it. It's also our focus on the feds, which really represent just a small fraction of overall incarcerations.

The second question on the survey that is more scary, they asked would you be willing to cut time served of someone convicted of violence who poses little to no risk of violence in the future? Over 55% liberals and 65% conservatives said no.

Reason: It seems like there are almost no politicians sticking their necks out on a "less prison time for violent criminals" platform.

Pfaff: It's very hard to do that. The politicians are very skeptical but I'm not unsympathetic to them. Americans consistently say that they want more rehabilitation and less punishment, but then we consistently vote based on that one shocking [violent] case. It would be great if politicians consistently prioritized doing the right thing over keeping their job.

Reason: Your main counterargument to "The Standard Story" is basically, prosecutors have been using their discretion to charge people as harshly as possible, which mostly leads to plea bargaining, which leads to more people serving time in prison. I'd bet that most Americans don't know that the U.S. is unique among Western democracies in that we elect our prosecutors. Why is that an American trait?

Pfaff: It comes from the same instinct as elected judges. The act of appointment was viewed as corrupt; you could appoint your friends and your cronies and you wouldn't enforce anything. The idea was to let the people themselves have a say, but I think what we see of course is that corruption will move to wherever the choice is being made. So when you shift from appointment to elections, then the money moves into elections and corruption shifts to there, so there are still concerns with elections but the underlying logic of an elected prosecutor was never actually less problematic.

The real challenging thing to the United States is that, as it stands now, the wrong people are often doing the choosing. The people who least suffer the costs of prosecutor choices have the most say. Prosecutors are elected by counties—and at least in most urban counties—the county contains a city and then a ring of suburbs. Usually those suburbs are wealthier, whiter, and tend to have more political power, so they feel the benefit of the county being safer, but they don't feel the cost of over-enforcement. The people who feel the cost of excessively aggressive prosecution tend to have the meekest political voice. The one solution could be to preserve elections [of prosecutors], but to devolve the election to a much more local area. Let Chicago elect the DA and then let Cook County elect a separate DA.

Locked InBasic BooksReason: In Locked In, you argue that the way we look at violent criminals needs to change. How do you sell that idea?

Pfaff: Violent felons might not be inherently dangerous, if the act of violence was in the context of very specific relationship, or even the fact that what we define as violent isn't always violent. Things we classify as vicious violent might not actually cause any physical harm.

Reason: Like what?

Pfaff: In New York state if you break into a house—even if it's unoccupied, even if you are unarmed—that constitutes a violent crime, because the potential for harm is there. Or if I say, "Give me your wallet or I'm going to punch you," and you give me your wallet. That's robbery. Someone gave me an example of a kid who threw food at his classmate and it hit the teacher. The school resource officer (SRO) arrested him for a violent crime, because some sort of harm is assault, right? And so now you have a violent felony record. A lot of things either no one was harmed or the harm was so minimal that it's not what we think of as classical violence.

Reason: You seem pretty optimistic that reform can still survive under Trump, but when Democrats are challenged on these kinds of issues they tend to push towards law and order as a means of clawing their way back into the majority.

Pfaff: It's complicated. A large number of Americans voted for Trump, but it was an electoral college win and not a popular vote win, which I think gives the Democrats a certain amount of breathing room.

Even in a state like Oklahoma, which went 60-65 percent for Trump—one of the largest margins of victory for Trump in any state—at the same time they passed two criminal justice reform referendums. It means a sizable number of Trump voters voted for these referenda, shifting drug cases from felony to misdemeanor, and they're reallocating the money being saved to treatment programs. They weren't rescaling violent crimes but they were focusing on really tackling drug offense at the state level. Several years ago Mississippi—actually the only state I've seen really do this—they cut the punishments for violent crimes. They had a truth in sentencing law that required you to serve 75 percent of your time in prison before you got parole, and they cut it back to 50. So even tough on crime places are showing more local smartness.

Reason: What else does "The Standard Story" miss?

Pfaff: By focusing on drugs, we're delaying this conversation on violence. I agree we have to start with drugs. You can't go from forty years of rising prison populations and then the very next day say, alright, we need to start shifting the conversation. The way we pass these reforms for low-level non-violent and drug cases, it's often by jacking up sanctions from violent crimes as sort of a compromise. The argument being, "We're not soft on crime, we're smart. These reformers think smart means being less tough on the non-violent so that we can be tougher on the violent offenders, people being convicted of violence.

That needs to shift because the proper response to violence is not always prison. It's riskier to focus on enforcement rather than prison. Prison takes them out of sight, out of mind. The huge collateral costs that we never pay attention to traverse drug overdoses, the destabilization of families, the risk of HIV and tuberculosis, the lost income, increase welfare dependency. There are huge costs in prison that we tend to ignore and because our immediate knee-jerk reaction is well they're violent they must be in prison, it ignores this cost and it ignores the fact that people age out of crime.

In my book, I never used the words "violent offender," because violent offender defines who the person is, as opposed as to the state they are passing through. At some point we need to start having a conversation about people convicted of violence, because we can't keep passing reform laws that ratchet things up for violence as a compromise for non-violence. I think we need to focus much more on the complicated politics of this.

By focusing on private prisons, we ignore the incredibly complicated and very intractable public sector politics of punishment. Almost no one talks about the routine nature of guard unions. California's prison guard union gets attention because they are so aggressively in front of pushing these topical bills. New York state's guard union gets a lot less attention even though the state shed 25 percent of its prison population, but its correctional budget has been steadily rising. I don't think people realize that nationwide, something like 45 percent of all correctional spending is just wages, and in some states it's as high as 65 percent. That's a huge incentive to fight against decarceration.

Reason: It's a jobs program.

Pfaff: People complain about how private prisons have this contract that mandates payment even when the prison's empty. They still get a mininum payment based on a certain capacity. But New York state keeps certain [public] prisons open with very few prisoners but lots of guards, which is exactly the same defect but at a much larger level because there's just so many more public prisons than private.

Pennsylvania once closed two [public] prisons and laid off three guards. They're very good at avoiding these things and as long as we are focusing on private prisons, we're ignoring the real financial power driving this process. What we target, if we want to get reformative, is how to change the incentives of upstate legislators who depend upon prisons to retain their seats.

Reason: So our nationwide mass incarceration problem requires local attention, local solutions?

Pfaff: That's kind of my hope with D.C.—from a routine criminal justice point of view—they are not going to focus on the things that really matter, and that gives reformers some breathing room. Whatever sort of Trump obsessions are over there, the real work is taking place over here. There's not going to be some bill that's going to come out of the U.S. Senate or even out of the New York state legislature that's going to say alright we solved the problem.

You've got to go county by county, DA by DA. That is harder work, but also lower profile, so there's much less resistance than the state or even the federal level. That's kind of where my Trumpian optimism comes from. That they aren't debating what really matters, what matters is that what goes on in some dingy county office building.

You're not going to have that one big fix.

This interview has been edited for style, clarity, and length.

Photo Credit: Anthony L. Fisher

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  • ||

    I'll just say this. Ending the drug war in one HELL of a good start.

  • ||

    "is"

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Yeah. It's low hanging fruit just waiting to be plucked.

  • Hans Bader||

    It is not just the low-hanging fruit, but the only fruit.

    Sentences for violent crimes should not be cut, especially not for murder, robbery, and aggravated assault. In fact, sentences for aggravated assault are ridiculously short, and if someone beats you with a baseball bat to the point where you limp for life, you assailant may get nothing more than a suspended sentence or probation if they had no prior criminal conviction.

    Pfaff's argument for cutting sentences if very, very simplistic, and completely overlooks the central purpose of the criminal justice system: deterrence, to prevent people from committing violence crimes in the first place. Would-be violent criminals need to receive long sentences to deter them from committing crimes in the first place, even if they later reform. The fact that they repent after going to prison and stop being a threat after they have already committed a horrid act of violence does not mean that people like them did not need to be deterred in the first place by the specter of a long prison sentence.

    Yet, Pfaff is clueless about this, saying "the second question on the survey that is more scary, they asked would you be willing to cut time served of someone convicted of violence who poses little to no risk of violence in the future? Over 55% liberals and 65% conservatives said no." These liberals, conservatives (and libertarians) are right to support policies that deter violent crime, and Pfaff is wrong and lacks common sense.

  • Hans Bader||

    I mean to write "Pfaff's argument for cutting sentences is very, very simplistic, and completely overlooks the central purpose of the criminal justice system: deterrence, to prevent people from committing violent crimes in the first place" (in my comment above). My comment contained two typos, writing "if very, very simplistic," rather than "is very, very simplistic," and "violence crimes" rather than "violent crimes."

    Sentences for murder and manslaughter are also often ridiculously short under current law. It is absurd that people can end up doing more time for major drug crimes than certain types of homicide. Moreover, someone who slowly tortures someone to death should never get out of jail, even if they committed the crime as a teenager. The harm caused by torture and murder is so enormous that the need for deterrence of such acts demands a maximum penalty to reduce the likelihood of such harm.

  • Agammamon||

    Violent crime, like sexual assault, covers a whole gamut of offenses. From things like murder and grievous bodily harm to getting in a fistfight with someone.

  • SomeGuy||

    murder being short is factually false. Manslaughter is also not really short. It depends under what degree the crime was and what the judge or jury convicts.

    http://criminal.findlaw.com/cr.....ncing.html

    involuntary manslaughter is fairly short due to the reasons resulting in the persons death.

    "involuntary manslaughter usually refers to an unintentional killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony (such as a DUI)."

    It is a good thing that this is not a long sentence. Now battery resulting in permanent injury is a debatable issue. It can be short but at the same time there are civil penalties too and locking a person up forever making them dead weight is always bad.

    Locking someone up is pretty dumb is the chance of re-offending is non existent. It hurts the whole society.

  • Bra Ket||

    "Locking someone up is pretty dumb is the chance of re-offending is non existent. It hurts the whole society."

    Victims have a right to justice.

    Society has restricted the dispensing of justice to a govt monopoly, which is instead supposed to provide justice for victims, prohibiting all others from doing so.

    Concerns about the resources saved by society (such as avoiding the cost of punishing criminals, or keeping that criminal productive and useful to the hive or themselves or whatever) strike me as a conflict of interest.

  • R. K. Phillips||

    Victims of a crime has exactly ZERO more "rights" than someone who was NOT a victim of said crime. They can, however, exact justice through a civil suit, but it ends there. "Society" is the victim, and the arbiter of justice, period, the end.

  • FreeSpeechMatters||

    Murder sentences are ridiculously short, and this is part of the reason why the homicide rate exploded. As Professor Barry Latzer pointed out in the Wall Street Journal in "The Myth of Mass Incarceration," "murderers released in 1960 had served a median 4.3 years, which wasn't long to begin with. By 1970 that figure had dropped to 3.5 years." "Between 1960 and 1990, the rate of violent crime in the U.S. surged by over 350%, according to FBI data, the biggest sustained buildup in the country's history." Even today, the average sentence is quite short.

    A Washington Post story provided a revealing glimpse into how soft-on-crime policies designed to prevent mass incarceration have resulted in tragedy, in the story "How a violent offender slipped through D.C. justice system: Lenient Sentencing and law enforcement can give many chances despite repeated criminal behavior." It noted that Antwon Durrell Pitt raped a 5 foot tall, 100-lb. woman, and broke her eye socket and cheekbone, after being spared any real punishment for past criminal acts, "including eight arrests in four years and a robbery conviction. Three times, he was sentenced under laws designed to promote leniency and second chances for inexperienced adult offenders. In two of these cases, he was sentenced under the District's Youth Rehabilitation Act, a 1980s-era law aimed at 'deserving' offenders under the age of 22." This is what so-called "criminal justice reform" actually means.

  • R. K. Phillips||

    The homicide rate, despite Chicago, isn't nearly as bad as it's been in the past.

  • Kords||

    The central purpose of the criminal justice system is not deterrence, but retributivism for the wrong committed. If individuals have been properly punished for the violent crime that they committed and no longer pose a threat to society, then it is immoral to keep them locked up for deterrent purposes. Otherwise we could justify locking up innocent people so long as it would deter the population at large from committing a wrongful act.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    I'm not convinced that individuals who are prone to violence are deterred by long prison sentences, I doubt that most are well educated on the pertinent statutes. Also, as noted in the article, it's pretty easy for a prosecutor to get a plea for a violent crime when none has taken place. How many people are sitting in prison for resisting arrest or assault on a cop who weren't lucky enough to have the incident recorded on video? Also, again as noted, most people outgrow their propensity for violence. A wild and violent 20 year old is more likely than not to grow into a calm, non violent and productive 40 year old.
    You, and a majority, are convinced that "the central purpose of the criminal justice system: deterrence". To the extent that such a system existed to protect my liberty whether by punishment, rehabilitation, or deterrence it would still be hard to justify the level of incarceration in the U.S. In reality our "criminal justice system" is just another racket committed to perpetuating itself. I found Pfaffs insights enlightening and thank Reason for publishing.

  • Wasteland Wanderer||

    Yeah...if someone "beat [me] with a baseball bat to the point where [I] limp for life" I'd want that person out and working after they've served their time....and for them to be sending me a check each month as restitution.

  • Ladylost||

    This! Victims should have a say in this! For property crimes this should absolutely be an option for the VICTIMS. Make them whole plus some for the hassle. Violent crimes too if and only if it is with victim's approval and compensation they agree too.

  • SomeGuy||

    Justice system purpose isn't deterrence. You are mixing up various aspect of policing and law and order.

    There are several aspects of policing, deterrence, prevention, and a coupe, others IIRC. Deterrence has been shown not to be effective when it comes to large sentences. Drug war is a perfect example. Deterrence only works on some people and certain crimes.

    It is one of many tools we can use and the Justice department exists for far more reasons than deterrence.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Apparently the libertarian moment includes a lot violent criminality.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    I've suggested that they change the name to

    EMOTE

    It's an accurate description for the left and a counterpoint to 'reason'.

  • MSimon||

    Compromise.

    REMOTE.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Did you even read the article?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Ha ha ha ha! That's gold, DD, gold!

  • @TheBitcoinimist||

    Bania??

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    He points out that many crimes are labled 'voilent crime' that involved potential for violence that never eventuated. It's like the Sex Offender Regestry; we think of a Sex Offender as being a rapist or a molester, not some twit kid who received a racy photo fro. His underage girlfriend. We think of a 'violent offender' as a blood drenched thug, not some jerk who broke into an empty house.

    The definition needs to be tightened.

  • SomeGuy||

    thee needs to be more levels describing the degree of violent crime and there is. It is just no one ever uses them out of laziness.

  • Diane Merriam||

    I suggest you read the article to see what kind of "violence" he's talking about ... i.e. crimes where no violence actually happened, but are classed as violent even so, or when the "violence" is so low as to be laughable ... like throwing food.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    The most unfortunate thing about the article is how that fact is buried. The implication of "reducing sentences for violent offenders" is that it means a full-on lily-livered Euro-approach, where you max out sentences for the most heinous crimes at 25 years (maybe covering your ass with indefinite mental health judgements). Really it's something more like the problem of overbroad definitions that Reason readers should be all too familiar with in the "sex offender" context -- Unarmed burglars who would never think to enter an occupied house, and would flee if they did encounter anyone, get classed as "violent" because of the "potential for violence". Similarly, misdemeanor offenses get reclassed as felonies to maximize prosecutorial discretion, and something like recklessly burning leaves becomes felony arson.

    Unfortunately, this is a more nuanced problem than simply "ending the drug war" (which I do still generally favor), and nuance is always a problem in forming policy, especially in a democracy.

  • Karen24||

    I would have emphasized the fact that "violent felon" and "person charged with what has been defined as a violent crime" are not actually completely overlapping categories. Prosecutors charge perps with the highest level crime possible in order to get a stiff sentence, even when a stiff sentence isn't warranted. The best example I can think of is Merle Haggard, who went to prison for felony burglary for climbing in the window of a pharmacy at 11 am on a weekday. He was completely wasted drunk, and intended to steal drugs, but it's still not illegal to enter a commercial establishment during business hours. He should have been charged with public intoxication and vandalism, but no DA gets elected to Congress for being kind to drunks who break windows, so he ended up in San Quentin.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    And a great example it is. Couching this issue in terms of "needing to change the way we look at violent criminals" is a foolish approach, even if you really believe that such a thing might ultimately be worthwhile. A vastly more effective rhetorical approach would be to ask people to reconsider how many crimes we've sleepwalked or been herded into classifying as "violent".

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Valid point. This guy might be trying too hard to be an iconoclast to present a winning argument.

  • CZmacure||

    If you read the article, which was surprisingly not-bad, it mentions that "violent criminals" may not be the "VIOLENT criminals" you are thinking of.

  • Lord_at_War||

    If you break into my house because you think it is "unoccupied" when I am at home, it will get violent- one of might die- and it won't be me.

    A true story... I was sitting on my couch one day when someone rang my doorbell. I wasn't expecting anyone. so I ignored it. Then, that person actually tried the door handle (no lock on the handle, just the deadbolt). So, I quickly grabbed my gun and saw his shadow through the blinds coming back for more. I caught him on my patio with a crowbar in his hand. I told him to sit his stupid ass down, and he tried to tell me had a "work order" for repairs on my condo. I saiid "With a crowbar"? and I asked him for a work order w/ my name on it.

    "It's in my van". Suuuure! Called 911. It was his 7th arrest for B&E, with one of his victims not being smart enough to answer the door with a gun. They were in a coma for 6 weeks.

    I really don't care if it's a "peaceful, unarmed" (except for the crowbar) oxy addict just trying to pay for his next dose- throw that shitbag in a cage for ten years.

  • R. K. Phillips||

    Well, ya know, if we could tell with certainty those who are truly violent, and those who may have acted violent in a given situation, or been deem "violent" without actually performing a violent act, then we'd be somewhere.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Violent felons might not be inherently dangerous, if the act of violence was in the context of very specific relationship, or even the fact that what we define as violent isn't always violent.

    He jumps the shark with this statement.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Not really. As he points out, the definition of "violent crime" has been stretched, sometimes to the point of absurdity.

    "Context of very specific relationship" need further explanation, though. Would that include "crimes of passion?" People who murder a family member? There are countries who take that into account in sentencing, because they focus on the likelihood of further crimes being committed rather than punishment. I doubt that will fly here any time soon.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The best predictor of future action in humans is having engaged in similar action in the past. That factor happens in all aspects of behavior. So someone that engages in violence against a family member or close associate is more likely to engage in violence in the future than another person who has not done so. Although I do think that libertarians should push criminal justice reform on the basis of hey, he just beat up his girlfriend, not someone that matters argument for the lulz that will ensue from their new besties on the left.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The guys other example of breaking and entry into a residence as not being inherently violent is problematic because doing so creates the conditions for a violent encounter ter between the resident and the intruder. Saying that , well it was unoccupied at the time, is specious as it is impossible for the intruder to know that with certainty. The reality is that most residential burglaries are plead down and if someone is in prison for that crime there is probably good reason for it.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    It's unfair to call those people perps - because no one is illegal. Instead they should be called undocumented guests. And what kind of monster would send a guest of his to prison?

  • AlmightyJB||

    Are they not free to [GAMBOL]?

  • Agammamon||

    This is exactly the sort of thinking that lead to DUI laws and DUI checkpoints.

    Don't make penalties dependent on what *could* have happened, make them dependent on what did happen.

    You break into an empty house and its not empty and you run away - not a violent crime.

    You find someone home and attack them - violent crime.

  • Agammamon||

    In fact, it might be better just to break crimes down into specific blocks - breaking into a home is one crime, threatening the occupants a different one with neither requiring the other - and charging the underlying crimes rather than having a bajillion composites written into law.

  • @TheBitcoinimist||

    I don't know how you would know that, "someone that engages in violence against a family member or close associate is more likely to engage in violence in the future than another person who has not done so", is true.

    That's just a truism that sounds good. Why is someone "more likely"? Your theory is that a man that snaps and kills his abusive wife after twenty years of taking it is somehow more likely to break into an unoccupied home than he otherwise would have been?

  • Agammamon||

    He means wife-beaters - who, in the larger view, are rarely a *general* threat. Just dangerous to the person in the relationship with them who is a convenient punching bag.

    Such situations can - in some case anyway - be better resolved by interfering in the relationship instead of throwing the violent partner into jail for a year every couple of years.

  • Viking1865||

    He means wife-beaters - who, in the larger view, are rarely a *general* threat. Just dangerous to the person in the relationship with them who is a convenient punching bag.

    You're not wrong, but good look selling that to the public. I had a friend who's sister was dating a real asshole once. We were all out at the bar, asshole backhanded her. She runs to the bathroom crying, my friend does what Sonny did to Carlo right there on the floor of the bar. Saw one of fuckhead's teeth land in a pile of peanut shells on the corner.

  • Viking1865||

    He means wife-beaters - who, in the larger view, are rarely a *general* threat. Just dangerous to the person in the relationship with them who is a convenient punching bag.

    You're not wrong, but good look selling that to the public. I had a friend who's sister was dating a real asshole once. We were all out at the bar, asshole backhanded her. She runs to the bathroom crying, my friend does what Sonny did to Carlo right there on the floor of the bar. Saw one of fuckhead's teeth land in a pile of peanut shells on the corner.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Fucking light switches are infected with youthful abandon.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The people who feel the cost of excessively aggressive prosecution tend to have the meekest political voice.

    In urban areas those communities most hit by broken window policing and over-prosecution seem to me would comprise a significant voter bloc.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    I guess the idea that people in those inner cities prefer the hassle of aggressive policing to the hell of living with high levels of crime; is just too out there for wealthy progressives to consider.

  • AlmightyJB||

    The aggressive crack sentencing (later declared as racist) existed because it was demanded by black, inner city members of the community.

  • Diane Merriam||

    Should, perhaps, but actual voting patterns vary among different groups of people. The lower the socioeconomic class, the lower the percentage of them that actually vote. Same with age. Older people vote far more often than younger ones. Different cultural groups have differing levels of political activity. For example, Oriental culture groups in the US get involved in politics at a much lower rate.

  • Karen24||

    Gerrymandering affects this. If a state Lege manages to cram every black person in the state into a small number of urban districts that are badly outnumbered by suburban districts represented by tough on crime types, then these reforms will languish.

  • Lord_at_War||

    Karen

    It's mandated by law. The Dems in Ohio wanted "minority-majority" Districts so more blacks could be elected to Congress and the Repubs said, "Don't throw me into that briar patch, Br'er Fox!"

    So Joyce Beatty and Marcia Fudge (or any other black) win 75-25 in their respective districts, Marcy Kaptur (Toledo) and some moron from Cleveland will always win by almost the same margins- and all the Repubs win 56-44.

    If you look at Wiki, they don't seem too terrible.

    "Be careful what you wish for- you just might get it..."

  • Sevo||

    "...why he's still optimistic about criminal justice reform in the era of President Donald Trump..."

    How can there be any hope at all in the "era of President Donald Trump"?
    The press assures me that mankind is doomed!

  • Trigger Hippie||

    Abandon all hope ye who veiws 'the Hair'.

  • GLEEMORE™||

    No, your friends at Breitbart assure me that we are entering a golden age.

  • Sevo||

    GLEEMORE™|2.25.17 @ 11:11AM|#
    "No, your friends at Breitbart assure me that we are entering a golden age."

    You should find help with those voices in your head; show me ONCE where I've so much as mentioned Breitbart, you slimy piece of lefty crap.

  • R. K. Phillips||

    They meant "orange", not "golden".

  • GLEEMORE™||

    Speaking of jail time, what happened the last time a Presidential administration tried to fool around with the FBI?

  • Sevo||

    Obo got away scot-free, slimebag.

  • GLEEMORE™||

    Yeah it's same when a President comments to the press about the FBI compared to when the President comments to the FBI about the press. Same same. Sure.

  • Sevo||

    Oh, my mistake. He used the *IRS* to go after his enemies!
    Sorry...

  • GLEEMORE™||

    He did? When? Like when he went after Tea Party groups for politicking when they were politicking?

    Is your *only* defense of Trump that he really deep down inside probably isn't that bad despite all appearances? That's the same way a battered wife feels, I guess.

  • Sevo||

    "He did? When?"

    "IRS releases list of groups targeted in scandal – 3 years later"
    [...]
    "Three years after the IRS admitted officials singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny, the tax-collecting agency has released a near-complete list of the organizations targeted.
    And it numbers in the hundreds — for the first time showing the extent to which the agency slow-walked applications for tax-exempt status."
    http://www.foxnews.com/politic.....later.html
    ------------------------------
    "Is your *only* defense of Trump that he really deep down inside probably isn't that bad despite all appearances? That's the same way a battered wife feels, I guess."

    I'm not defending Trump; merely pointing out that as bad as he is, he's better than Obo or that hag.

  • GLEEMORE™||

    "agency slow-walked applications for tax-exempt status."

    Yay... at least someone in the government was doing their job. Let people who want Bernie Sanders to be President pay taxes like everyone else.

  • Sevo||

    GLEEMORE™|2.25.17 @ 1:10PM|#
    "Yay... at least someone in the government was doing their job."

    Yeah, keeping those who don't agree with you from getting equal protection.
    "Selective Enforcement of Laws"; it's how slimy lefties define government!

  • VG Zaytsev||

    I'm really enjoying the spectacle of lefties now supporting unaccountable police and intelligence agencies interfering with democracy.

  • GLEEMORE™||

    You mean like Comey did with HRC? Yeah, I wasn't a fan. Besides who's talking about the FBI interfering with democracy. It's this President fooling around with the FBI that's the problem. You've got my wholesale objections to Trump precisely backwards.

  • Sevo||

    GLEEMORE™|2.25.17 @ 11:49AM|#
    "You mean like Comey did with HRC?"

    What, exactly, did he do, and why should he have done otherwise?
    And why is that hag still free instead of behind bars where she should be?

  • Sevo||

    It's telling that Feinstein now represents the sane part of the left:

    "Feinstein answers questions; still gets hard time from protesters"
    [...]
    ""Compromise" has become a dirty word, Feinstein admitted, but she argued that in a two-party system, it's the only way to get anything done."
    http://www.sfgate.com/politics.....957888.php

    What bullbleep.
    "Compromise" has been a 'dirty word' for the last eight years; that lying POS who occupied the WH simply claimed that any opposition was unacceptable.

  • Rich||

    I never used the words "violent offender," because violent offender defines who the person is, as opposed as to the state they are passing through.

    "I never used the word "murderer," because murderer defines who the person is, as opposed as to the state they are passing through."

  • AlmightyJB||

    Violent behavior is a pretty good indicator of a violent person. The are certainly some one offs where the situation created the behavoir and is unlikely to present itelf again. Other other hand, how many stories of kidnapping/rape/murder have you seen where you see the guys rap sheet and you wonder why and the hell he was out in society.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    "It would be great if politicians consistently prioritized doing the right thing over keeping their job."

    Mr. Pfaff is obviously insane. No guns for you!

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Yeah and wtf is with all those fs? Buy a fucking vowel. I mean it's unpronounceable.

  • ShaneCB||

    Pfaff's so-called arguments add up to nothing more than word-thinking. I hope the people here who haven't read Michelle Alexander's book go out and do so. As opposed to mere word-thinking her book paints a dramatically detailed and insightful picture of what the war on drugs looks like in terms of laws on the books, court decisions (the 4th amendment has been abdicated by SCOTUS) and the devastating results. I don't agree with all her notions of causation or remedies, but her book is leagues beyond word-thinkers like Pfaff.

  • Sevo||

    WOOOOSH!

    "Bill Maher Urges Media to Fight Back Against President Trump"
    [...]
    ""Now that polls find the news media less trustworthy than Donald Trump, they have to fight to get their reputation back and there are encouraging signs," Maher said. "The New York Times no longer shies away from saying Trump lies on the front page."
    http://www.sfgate.com/entertai.....959032.php

    Yeah, that's the ticket! The press hasn't been partisan enough yet.
    Why, I'm sure they called Obo a miserable lying POS over that 'doctor' stuff, right? Right?

  • GLEEMORE™||

    BOOOSCH!!! Oh... wait.

  • Sevo||

    Fuck off.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    I thought it was the NYT that lies on the front page. Trump must lie elsewhere. Sad.

  • GLEEMORE™||

    Meh. Since libertarianism has descended into dreary Trump apologia I no longer care about desparately poor people looking to improve their lot in life being hounded by police thugs. The law is the law!

    "The Trump administration's far-reaching plan to arrest and deport vast numbers of undocumented immigrants has been introduced in dramatic fashion over the past month. And much of that task has fallen to thousands of ICE officers who are newly emboldened, newly empowered and already getting to work."

  • Sevo||

    Fuck off.

  • GLEEMORE™||

    What happened to all the commenters? Did they all get job with the Trump administration. It's about time someone gave those bozos a job.

  • DOOMco||

    Change your name.

  • Sevo||

    Fuck off.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    What kind of benefit package is he offering?

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    I mean I'd wear a red nose and big shoes if the price was right.

  • Snort||

    The benefit package currently allows you to shoot kids in Mexico an get away with it. Just be sure they don't get shot or die on US soil. Although you should hurry because SCOTUS may soon make it illegal.

  • DOOMco||

    Troll show around here.

  • GLEEMORE™||

    When I was over at Breitbart posing (badly) as a North Korean diplomat, that's trolling. When I'm here posting articles on a libertarian website about how I don't like "newly emboldened" ICE officials that's not trolling. What the guck has happened to libertarianism?

  • american socialist||

    You are a socialist so ice raids are up your alley

  • Snort||

    How do you define "socialism" and "socialist"? I pay the local homeowner association every month because I have to. If I don't they will eventually put a lien on my house. Does that make me a socialist?

  • american socialist||

    Gleemore is the former American socialists

    Socialist countries love them some groups like the ss or kgb rooting out enemies of the state

  • Longtobefree||

    Nope, it makes you someone who voluntarily ceded some of his freedom. If you change your mind, you can move.

  • Sevo||

    GLEEMORE™|2.25.17 @ 3:50PM|#
    "When I was over at Breitbart posing..."

    You're a liar and a pathetic troll.
    Fuck off.

  • american socialist||

    Gleemore wtf man?

    Lol

  • JeremyR||

    Oh yeah, wife killers only kill their wives. So why lock them up? They won't kill again until they re-marry. Perfectly safe for the rest of society.

  • Snort||

    I started out agreeing with the title of this article, but It didn't take long for me to become uncomfortable. The article starts out saying Pfaff's "Twitter bio states (in part), "I'm not contrarian—the data is,"" This leads me to believe John Pfaff is a Statistician, or at least expert at analyzing data. When Mr. Pfaff seems to blame "local prosecutors" for not doing their job, which results in the decline of the prison population (specifically those convicted of drug charges). Since there is no citation of facts or even an attempt at "alternative facts" this article (for me, anyway) begins to sound like hyperbole. And this leads me to the suspicion Mr. Pfaff is simply promoting his book, not trying to enlighten others. For me, this "suspicion" removes any desire to even finish reading the article, or (shudder) read the book.

  • Sevo||

    So anyone who's masochistic enough to watch the Hollywood Sales Awards Meeting tonight?
    Just wondering who gives the obligatory "Trump is a big poopyhead and we're victims!" speech.

  • Stoic||

    As part of my job (helping people with mental illness pursue employment), I've encountered cases of individuals who were convicted of serious violent crimes, and I agree that "lock them all up forever" isn't the best strategy. One good example is a middle-aged woman who was convicted of "CONSP/SOLICIT TO COMMIT MURDER (PRINCIPAL)" and sentenced to 7 years probation. According to news accounts as remembered by my coworkers, she helped her husband hide her brother's body after witnessing him kill him. Her husband got a lengthy prison sentence (I don't know exactly how long, but he would be eligible for parole in 10 years), I don't know the details of his conviction (I didn't live here at the time), but the wife remains faithful to him and has gotten involved with prison ministry activities.

    The woman's official mental illness was PTSD stemming from the incident, and she was denied disability benefits when she applied for them (a legitimate decision, of course). Her only remorse is that she ended up developing PTSD, but that and the strict conditions of her probation were sufficient that she's highly unlikely to ever commit another crime, despite some antisocial tendencies (she couldn't understand why no local employers would hire her due to the fact anyone who lived here at the time saw her face plastered all over the news).

    In any case, we ended up helping her start her own business, and she is now a tax-paying member of society rather than an expensive prison inmate.

  • GLEEMORE™||

    I'm pretty insistent that we get the numbers associated with acts of communist aggression within the right magnitude so I changed the Wikipedia page of Janet Nguyen from this:

    "After she rose to criticize his communism, his support of Communist North Vietnam and its Red Terror in South Vietnam, which killed millions including members of her family,"

    To this:

    "On February 23, 2017, Senator Nguyen was forcibly removed from the Senate floor on Thursday morning during an attempt to criticize the late California Sen. Tom Hayden. She rose to criticize his communism, his support of Communist North Vietnam and the Red Terror in South Vietnam-- which killed an estimated 45,000-85,000 people."

    I also cleaned up the grammar in the rest of the segment. It's like it was written by Asian hair salon employees.

  • Sevo||

    GLEEMORE™|2.25.17 @ 10:56PM|#
    "I'm pretty insistent..."

    You're a lefty ignoramus and liar. Fuck off.

  • Sevo||

    Oh, and now that I've bothered to scan your bullshit, I see you are the source of lies on Wiki.
    What a surprise! Lefty imbecile writes propaganda!
    Fuck off.

  • GLEEMORE™||

    The communist government killed millions after the U.S. left in 1975? Uh...no. The persons most responsible for millions of deaths in Vietnam were Kennedy, LBJ and Nixon.

  • Sevo||

    GLEEMORE™|2.25.17 @ 11:15PM|#
    The communist government killed millions after the U.S. left in 1975?"

    You tell me; I made no such claim. My claim is simple; nothing you post has the least credibility. You are a lying lefty imbecile and a troll. But given the commie record of mass murder, I wouldn't be surprised.
    -------------------------------
    "Uh...no. The persons most responsible for millions of deaths in Vietnam were Kennedy, LBJ and Nixon."

    Cite missing on "millions of deaths". And I'm sure it will continue to be missing; as a product of gov't schools, I expect you to be ignorant of even such recent events as the conflict in Vietnam and more than willing to lie about it in the hopes everyone is as ignorant as you.
    I'll be waiting for the cite and I'll be more than happy to 'correct' your lies, scumbag.

  • Longtobefree||

    Just for the record:
    Deaths in Vietnam War (1965–1974) per Guenter Lewy
    Allied military deaths 282,000
    NVA/VC military deaths 444,000
    Civilian deaths (North and South Vietnam) 627,000
    Total deaths 1,353,000
    Killed in Cambodia alone, by Communist Government which invaded Cambodia after the end of the Vietnam war:
    1.7 to 2.5 million. (variance due to difficulties in mass graves, undocumented graves, different extrapolations from those factors)
    So even giving half of the civilian deaths to the US, you are short of a million. The Communists on the other hand - - - - -

  • Agile Cyborg||

    who the fuck interacts with media unless sprites hit?
    media is a playground for rumpled sharers of plight
    on birdie wordie scrims and chair fields and old rooms
    where press armies like old birds resting in silent oaken forests
    think the valleys below bring new swoops and flutters
    but unbeknownst to them the valley is an owl and
    the flutter is a dragon and to rest too long as when
    cars growled chrome and their legs reached into the sun
    prowling earth stretch and moan so be it for the papered voice
    and yawn and the binary knight and queen... if you fail
    the whisper of notes coiled among the rockets of stones
    rest so fucking assured the future of freedom will not include
    your insanity...

    your arm and wrist and fingers scrawling screams...
    question the spirits and voices crawling through the visions of your fingers
    and clinking
    and align them with objective reality truths
    remove the art from your voice because art corrupts reason
    art is the emotion of sex
    sex is the emotion of rocket boosters required to break the universe
    but not pragmatic objective reality required to stamp letters
    on the salvation of humanity

  • Agile Cyborg||

    the free press and comedians judge themselves above the nations they are bequeathed to write and scream above
    the lines of the press and comedians are the heartbeats of the nation they ghost
    no FUCKING TV presenter or goddamn magazine scribbler or fucking joke demon on a stage
    can howl freedom higher than an American citizen.

    the american citizen is the last freedom expanse ever written on a planet awash in death.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    America is the last refuge for life unchained
    America is the ultimate target to destroy
    America is the last step to be vanquished on the pyramid of collectivist monopoly
    America falling, failing, wasted, drained, will result in earth falling into utter wasteland
    brought on by the emotion-exploiters within Marxist Kantian Hegelian Hell slammers
    America will become the grey alleys of your sinking mind ships
    unless
    Europe is resisted along with her fucking abuse of the libertarians
    The goddamn motherfucking Libertarians are being used like fodder
    so am I ...fuck
    but listen and read aside the coming bullets, HQ
    she was not about what your shit espoused
    Koch docs are fucking this place up
    Go back home and don't pretend that you
    know shit, Gillespsie

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Reason does not give a single goddamn shit about fucking America

  • Agile Cyborg||

    How does America and Ayn Rand
    converge with Reason's fucking ideas?

    Please present future topics about this,
    font spinners....

    refuse distraction from ancient asian spirits
    if their lips and tits are aglow
    resist

  • SQRLSY One||

    Trumpty Dumpty, He's quite off-the-wall,
    Trumpty Dumpty won't stay in His toilet stall
    He just goes ahead and takes His shits,
    Totally regardless of whereever He sits
    Whenever He simply, no way, can sleep,
    He Twits us His thoughts, they're all SOOO deep!
    He simply must, He MUST, Twit us His bird,
    No matter the words, however absurd!
    He sits and snorts His coke with a spoon,
    Then He brazenly shoots us His moon!
    They say He'll be impeached by June,
    Man, oh man, June cannot come too soon!
    So He sits and jiggles His balls,
    Then He Twitters upon the walls
    "Some come here to sit and think,
    Some come here to shit and stink
    But I come here to scratch my balls,
    And read the writings on the walls
    Here I sit, My cheeks a-flexin'
    Giving birth to another Texan!
    He who writes these lines of wit,
    Wraps His Trump in little balls,
    He who reads these lines of wit,
    Eats those loser's balls of shit!"

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