Six of one, half dozen of the other

Donald Trump has thrown in with criminal justice reform:

President Trump threw his support behind a substantial revision of the nation’s prison and sentencing laws on Wednesday, opening a potential path to enacting the most significant changes to the criminal justice system in a generation. 

The tentative legislative package, developed by a bipartisan group of senators and called the First Step Act, builds on a prison overhaul bill already passed overwhelmingly by the House by adding changes that would begin to unwind some of the tough-on-crime federal policies of the 1980s and 1990s that incarcerated African-American offenders at much higher rates than white offenders. 

Combining new funding for anti-recidivism programs, the expansion of early-release credits for prisoners and the reduction of certain mandatory minimum sentences, the compromise bill would help shape the experiences of tens of thousands of current inmates and future offenders. 

“In many respects, we’re getting very much tougher on the truly bad criminals — of which, unfortunately, there are many,” said Mr. Trump, flanked by Republican lawmakers and law enforcement officials. “But we’re treating people differently for different crimes. Some people got caught up in situations that were very bad.” 

Just before his firing Jeff Sessions was still pushing against reform.

The proposed law would in effect roll back the Clinton Administration’s 1994 Crime Bill which locked up more criminals, or in the soft Orwellian language of the Current Year, “raised incarceration rates”. There is no difference between the two, but the latter is bad.

In politics locking up criminals used to be a thing. Clinton was quaintly defending it as late as the 2016 presidential campaign, before having his ass handed to him by the Narrative and apologizing. Politicians now campaign on “reducing incarceration rates”, where they once campaigned on “locking up criminals”–Trump being an exception, and all the more a disappointment now for climbing down. If the Left has its way, he’ll be the last national candidate who dares advocating for locking up criminals, openly.

Recall police were being executed in the streets by radicalized Black Lives Matter supporters during the 2016 campaign as part of what Steve Sailer calls the “Late Obama Age Collapse.”  No small part of Trump’s appeal was his old-fashioned call for law and order in the face of BLM agitation, which is a kind of criminal advocacy.

The average white American hadn’t necessarily experienced an increase in crime but he knew, in 2016 as he knows now, that the problem with criminal justice isn’t its “racism”. Trump appeared, as if on cue, to provide us with the opportunity to strike back.

This cave from Trump and Jeff Sessions’ departure threaten his gains of the past two years in rolling back Obama era excess.
Jeff Sessions spoke uncompromisingly against reform while Attorney General and issued a memo on his way out limiting the pursuit and extent of consent decrees–seeking to preempt a return to Obama/Holder’s political weaponization of them.

The bill, which would take more people out of prison and into halfway houses, reverts to Obama-era policy and is sold in part on its economics–it’s cheaper to put someone in a halfway house than a cell (and an ankle bracelet for home detention is cheaper still) and the Bureau of Prisons ran a shortfall of 40 million last year.

Apparently under Sessions’ authority convicts were serving out more of their sentences and spending less time in the bloated industry of halfway house contractors that rose to meet Obama-era demand.
Prisoner advocate the Marshall Project complained just last month:

In federal penitentiaries across the nation, prisoners eagerly awaiting a transfer to halfway houses say they are being told that they will have to wait weeks or months longer than they had anticipated because there is a shortage of beds at the transitional group homes. 

But that’s not true. According to inmates, halfway house staff and industry officials, scores of beds lie empty, with some estimates of at least 1,000 vacant spaces. They remain unused due to a series of decisions that have sharply reduced the number of prisoners sent to halfway houses. And home confinement, a federal arrangement similar to house arrest that allows prisoners to complete their sentences with minimal supervision, is being even more drastically curtailed. 

The Bureau of Prisons says it is curbing overspending of past years and streamlining operations, but that doesn’t make sense. Putting inmates in halfway houses or on home confinement is much cheaper than imprisonment. The federal government spent almost $36,300 a year to imprison an inmate, $4,000 more compared with the cost to place a person in a halfway house in 2017, according to the Federal Register. It costs $4,392 a year to monitor someone on home confinement, according to a 2016 report by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. 

The new law is being sold as a money-saver.

Abandoning transitional supervision aligns with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ disputed opinion that reduced prison populations during the Obama administration are to blame for a small uptick in violent crime. As a senator from Alabama, Sessions led the charge two years ago against a bill to ease sentences, and as attorney general he has instructed prosecutors to be more aggressive in charging defendants.  

Steve Sailer attributes that “small uptick” to his “Late Obama Age” collapse thesis: BLM rioting and the subsequent retreat of police forces in affected municipalities led to increases in murder rates, citing its localization in places like Baltimore and Ferguson. Jeff Sessions has been blaming soft law enforcement leaving too many criminals on the street. Certainly the overall effect of the Obama administration was to keep as many criminals out of jail as possible while riling them up with demagogy about police brutality.

But his draconian ideas are undermining his own boss’ stated preference for early release and rehabilitation programs. President Donald Trump has endorsed the First Step Act, which would let prisoners earn significant time to finish their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement if they complete certain rehabilitation programs. The bill is awaiting a Senate vote. Trump has said that he would “overrule” Sessions if the attorney general tried to stymie efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

Criminal justice reform as envisioned by the new bill seeks to get people out of prison earlier and out of halfway houses and into home detention earlier. Predictable problems arise from putting convicts too early into transitional

This reversion to Obama-era policies will impact public safety.

Since the 1960s, halfway houses have provided federal prisoners a running start before release to find work, which has been shown to help people stay crime-free longer. A Pennsylvania state study found connections between higher rearrest rates and stints in halfway houses, while federal violations, violence and overdoses have contributed to poor public perception of the facilities. But prisoners and their advocates say moving into a transitional residence gives inmates an incentive to avoid trouble in prison and join rehabilitative programs. 

Under the Obama administration, the number of federal prisoners in halfway houses and other transitional programs boomed. The federal government required the privately-run residences to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment, and the Department of Justice also increased access to ankle monitors so more prisoners could finish sentences in their own homes. 

At the peak in 2015, more than 10,600 prisoners resided in federal halfway houses. The number of inmates in home confinement—4,600—was up more than a third from the year before. In all, one in 14 of the people under Bureau of Prisons supervision was living at home or in a halfway house.

If you fall victim to a crime take solace: the event is tangible evidence of lower incarceration rates!

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