AG Holder: “We Can’t Incarcerate Our Way to Public Safety”

imgresYesterday, U.S. Attorney General, Eric  Holder, spoke at the Brennan Center for Justice. It is heartening to hear the feds talking about mass incarceration being unsustainable  and how we can’t incarcerate our way to public safety. Now our job is to clean out the ears of Hawai`i’s law enforcement community so they too can hear this message.

One Year After Launching Key Sentencing Reforms, Attorney General Holder Announces First Drop in Federal Prison Population in More Than Three Decades
Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

“In a speech at the Brennan Center for Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder announced   today that the federal prison population has dropped by roughly 4,800 inmates since September 2013.  This represents the first time the federal inmate population has fallen,  rather than risen, over the course of a fiscal year since 1980.


After all – as I’ve often said – the United States will never be able to prosecute or  incarcerate its way to becoming a safer nation.


But statistics have shown – and all of us have seen – that high incarceration rates and longer-than-necessary prison terms have not played a significant role in materially improving public safety, reducing crime, or strengthening communities.


We know that over-incarceration crushes opportunity.  We know it prevents     people, and entire communities, from getting on the right track.  And we’ve seen that –  as more and   more government leaders have gradually come to recognize – at a   fundamental level, it challenges our commitment to the cause of justice.”


Federal prison population drops by roughly 4,800
Eric Tucker, Associated Press, philly.c0m, Sept. 23, 2014

“WASHINGTON (AP) – The federal prison population has dropped in the last year by roughly 4,800, the first time in several decades that the inmate count has gone down,according to the Justice Department.


The crime rate has dropped along with the prison population, Holder said, proving that “longer-than-necessary prison terms” don’t improve public safety. “In fact, the opposite is often true,” he said


this era, he said, ‘It’s no longer adequate – or appropriate – to rely on outdated models that prize only enforcement, as quantified by numbers of prosecutions, convictions, and  lengthy sentences, rather than taking a holistic view.'”


Holder: ‘We Can’t Incarcerate Our Way to Public Safety’
Cara Tabachnick, The Crime Report, Sept. 24, 2014


Federal Prosecution for the 21st Century
Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Nicole Fortier, Inimai M. Chettiar, Brennan Center for Justice, September 23, 2014

“This new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law proposes modernizing one key aspect of the criminal justice system: federal prosecutors. Prosecutors are in a uniquely powerful position to bring change, since they make decisions about when and whether to bring criminal charges, and make recommendations for sentencing. The report proposes reorienting the way prosecutors’ “success” is measured around three core goals: Reducing violent and serious crime, reducing prison populations, and reducing recidivism. The mechanism for change would be a shift in how attorneys’ performance is assessed, to give prosecutors incentives to focus on how their practices reduce crime in and improve the communities they serve, instead of making their “success” simply a measure of how many individuals they convict and send to prison.”

Full Report here

Foreword here

Introduction here

Executive Summary here

This report recommends:

  • U.S. Attorneys implement, as a best practice, self-evaluations of their offices using success measures for priorities;
  • U.S. Attorneys change individual prosecutor evaluations to include similar success measures;
  • The Justice Department adds success measures for core priorities when evaluating U.S. Attorneys’ Offices;
  • The Justice Department modifies the model individual prosecutor evaluation form to include similar success measures;
  • The Justice Department provides additional funding for U.S. Attorneys’ Offices that achieve certain success measures; and
  • Additional reforms, such as using the bully pulpit, expanding training and interview practices, expanding access to data, and increasing coordination for federal grant dollars.

By implementing these recommendations, federal prosecutors can shift outcomes to better reduce crime, dispense justice, and reduce incarceration. This shift in practices can help spur momentum for a similar shift in state and local practices in these districts, as explained in Part IV.

Holding prosecutors accountable to the public would be a great idea, as well. Hard to tell how things are decided when decisions are made in the dark, behind closed and locked doors! At least court is held in open session and the records are public.  The current prosecutorial system only breeds corruption and suspicion.

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