Publius / Oct. 7, 2015

Reforming Sentencing by Releasing Prisoners?

The real prison reform will come from Congress, not Obama.

The Justice Department announced it will grant early release to about 6,000 prisoners serving time for drug offenses between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. In the words of The Washington Post, it’s “the largest one-time release of federal prisoners.” The 6,000 prisoners are part of the U.S. prison population who had time on their sentences reduced because of action by then-Attorney General Eric Holder. About a third of the prisoners, who are not U.S. citizens, will be deported. While the move certainly grabs headlines, the real prison reform will come from Congress, and not the Obama administration. Currently, the land of the free has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and 6,000 prisoners is only a drop in the bucket towards solving this problem. Obama may visit a federal prison, call for more reform and grant clemency to a few politically favored prisoners, but there is only so much he can do. Currently, Congress is considering a prison reform bill backed by the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Koch brothers. Only Congress can reform the practice of mandatory minimum sentencing — a perversion of justice that let bureaucrats determine a prisoner’s punishment years before the crime was committed and needlessly increased the number of Americans jailed. On the other hand, while we agree sentencing should be reformed, one of the reasons crime continues to decline is that many of the people who are incarcerated are the most likely to commit crimes. Releasing a bunch of prisoners could come back and bite Obama just like Willie Horton did for Michael Dukakis.

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