Friday, June 17, 2011

More on Crime & Punishment

Two things for a little light summer beach reading for you. First, Marc Mauer and David Cole in today's WaPo on "The Five Myths of Incarceration":

No country on Earth imprisons more people per capita than the United States. But for America, mass incarceration has proved a losing proposition. The Supreme Court recently found California’s overcrowded prisons unconstitutional, and state legislators want to cut the vast amounts of public money spent on prison warehousing. Why are so many Americans in prison, and which ones can be safely released? Let’s address some common misunderstandings about our incarceration problem.
Most of the myths will sound familiar to regular readers of TPE, but they always are worth repeating, imo.

Second, check out this wonderful analysis of yesterday's other big SCOTUS decision on crime and sentencing, from a blog called Grits for Breakfast (tag line: "Welcome to Texas justice: You might beat the rap, but you won't beat the ride"):
The US Supreme Court yesterday held in Tapia v. United States (pdf) that federal law "does not permit a sentencing court to impose or lengthen a prison term in order to foster a defendant’s rehabilitation" in federal cases. (See SCOTUSWiki's case backup page, Doug Berman's first-take analysis here, and coverage from the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, McClatchy Newspapers, and UPI.)

Kagan identified the four stated purposes of criminal sentences - retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation - but explained that federal law does not allow all of them to be considered in crafting different types of sentences. For example, not only may rehabilitation not be considered when ordering imprisonment, but "retribution" may not be considered when ordering community supervision. Kagan found especially "illuminating ... a statutory silence—the absence of any provision granting courts the power to ensure that offenders participate in prison rehabilitation programs."
Of course, this is nothing new. We haven't even pretended to rehabilitate prisoners in over 30 years in this country, so why on earth would the court suddenly find rehabilitation a laudatory goal of sentencing (btw, the decision was unanimous)?

Anyway, read Justice Kagan's opinion in the Tapia case, and definitely check out Grits for Breakfast (h/t Doug Berman at Sentencing, Law & Policy). I'm adding it to my blogroll asap.

UPDATE: My summer reading is going to include the Pentagon Papers, just released in full, 40 years later. (wait for it) LOL.

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