Mr. Biden stated that he wants to release half of all prison inmates or reduce the US correctional population substantially through other means.
Fifty-eight percent of male state prisoners are violent. The percentage of those violent increases considerably when including prior convictions and arrests.
If the strategy is release, 700,000 mostly violent offenders could potentially be removed from prison. Release from prison is a priority of most (all?) correctional advocacy organizations.
Mr. Biden can’t significantly reduce the prison population without releasing violent offenders. He needs to clarify his intentions.
Another way to reduce the prison population by half (or a substantial amount) is to dramatically change the way violent offenders are sentenced.
“Would you commit to cutting incarceration by 50%?” Albert asks Biden. “More than that. We can do it more than that,” he responds.
Editor’s Note: Article expanded and clarified due to readers’ comments.
If Joe Biden lives up to his campaign promise to cut the prison population in half, what are the implications for public safety?
“During his presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised to end private prisons, cash bail, mandatory-minimum sentencing and the death penalty. Candidate Biden also said the U.S. could reduce its prison population by more than half. While he didn’t put forward as progressive or as detailed a platform as many of his competitors for the Democratic nomination (including his running mate Kamala Harris), Biden has nevertheless, quietly, been elected on the most progressive criminal justice platform of any major party candidate in generations. So what can he actually do?” The Marshall Project.
First, like his asserted national COVID mask mandate, Mr. Biden has no power to enforce correctional reductions at the state level where the overwhelming number and percentage of inmates reside. He can, however, enforce his prerogatives within the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Presidents can use their bully pulpit to encourage, or they can offer grants or other incentives to reduce correctional populations, but they can’t force states to reduce their numbers.
But Mr. Biden will be under immense pressure from the more liberal elements within his party to accomplish that goal through pressure and funding.
What Mr. Biden Said-Buzzfeed-ACLU (direct quotes)
“Would you commit to cutting incarceration by 50%?” Albert asks Biden. “More than that. We can do it more than that,” he responds.
Last month in Concord, New Hampshire, another self-identified ACLU voter asked if Biden would “commit to cutting the prison population overall, and specifically the federal prison population, in half” — a slightly different wording. Biden responded at length about criminal justice policy before telling the woman that he would not commit to reducing the prison population by any percentage target, BuzzFeed.
It’s interesting that per an ACLU article, “This week, Joe Biden also agreed, telling an ACLU volunteer that he would, in fact, commit to reducing incarceration in half and that he’s put together a plan that will go further than 50 percent.”
This quote came after his assertion that he would not commit to a percentage cut. Thus, after taking time to think it over, Biden is still committed to a 50 percent (or more) cut in the prison population, ACLU.
Regardless of how Mr. Biden cuts the US correctional population, a 50 percent reduction has real implications for crime, especially recidivism.
If you are going to be that assertive (“More than that. We can do it more than that”) cutting the US correctional population seems to be a Biden priority.
Release From Prison Is A Priority For Advocates
Critics reviewing this article suggest that Mr. Biden doesn’t want to release current violent offenders. If so, he could never achieve his goals of a 50+ percent reduction.
Most, if not all of the advocacy organizations calling for a 50 percent cut in the prison population endorse the closure of prisons or releasing violent offenders:
“This isn’t to say that our only strategy must be to demand the immediate closure of every prison. While the ongoing call is always to #FreeThemAll…”, Moving Beyond Non-Violent Offenders.
“Granting clemency to people trapped in prison who are elderly, sick, or have already served more than enough time for their offense,” ACLU.
“To meaningfully reduce America’s prison population and slow the pandemic will require cutting away not just fat but muscle, releasing (emphasis added) not just nonviolent drug offenders but those convicted of violent crimes, The Atlantic.
Impact on Public Safety-Recidivism
Recidivism is based on those released from prison who are arrested, convicted or incarcerated once again.
The most common understanding of recidivism is based on state data from the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, stating that two-thirds (68 percent) of prisoners released were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years.
Within 3 years of release, 49.7% of inmates either had an arrest that resulted in a conviction with a disposition of a prison sentence or were returned to prison without a new conviction because they violated a technical condition of their release, as did 55.1% of inmates within 5 years of release, Offender Recidivism.
Offender Recidivism and Reentry in the United States offers a variety of recidivism data from federal and state sources. There are large categories of released offenders having extremely high rates of rearrests, reconvictions, and reincarcerations. I have seen some groups of released offenders having arrest rates of 85 percent or higher.
The question is whether we should release half or a substantial number of prison inmates if they are almost guaranteed to have a considerable impact on violence and crime?
There is endless debate as to why released prisoners are returned to prison. Some contend that it’s technical violations and not new crimes that are fueling prison intakes. Advocates insist that the bulk of people returned to prison are “victims” of technical violations or minor infractions by overzealous parole and probation agents.
The problem with that assertion is data from the Department of Justice stating that the overwhelming percentage of criminal arrests by released prisoners were based on new criminal charges and not technical violations.
“Almost all prisoners who were re-arrested (96% of released sex offenders and 99% of all released offenders) were arrested for an offense other than a probation or parole violation,” BJS.
This isn’t to say that technical violations are not serious unto themselves. Previous data state that escapes/absconding from supervision “or” former inmates choosing a short time in jail (not state prison) for a new criminal charge instead of enhanced supervision in the community (i.e., drug treatment) via a plea-bargain are common.
Former prisoners having scores of technical violations (twenty to forty and more) is not unusual. Not paying fines, victim restitution, child support, and other infractions are frequent.
Technical violations are often intermingled with new criminal charges. Because the overwhelming percentage of criminal charges for “all” defendants involve plea-bargains, it’s easier for the justice system to proceed with a charge of escape/absconding than trying to prove a burglary or robbery. Pleading guilty to a technical violation rather than a new crime will bring a shorter sentence.
Characteristics of Prison Inmates
The total prison population in the U.S. declined from 1,464,400 at year-end 2018 to 1,430,800 at year-end 2019, a decrease of 33,600 prisoners.
Violent offenders made up (55%) of all sentenced state prisoners.
An estimated 14% of sentenced state prisoners were serving time for murder or non-negligent manslaughter (177,700), and another 13% were serving time for rape or sexual assault (162,700).
At year-end 2018, more than half of sentenced males (58%) and more than a third of sentenced females (38%) were serving time in state prison for a violent offense.
About 16% of sentenced state prisoners were serving time for a property offense (199,700), and 14% were serving time for a drug offense (176,300) at the end of 2018, Bureau Of Justice Statistics.
Number Mr. Biden Wants Released
If Mr. Biden has his way, 700,000 mostly violent offenders will be released from prison “or” people convicted would be processed through alternatives to prison. Considering the high percentage of violent offenders in US prisons (55 to 58 percent for current charges) and the fact that many prison inmates have prior histories of arrests and convictions for crimes of violence, the only way to reduce the prison population by half (or a substantial amount) is to dramatically change the way violent offenders are adjudicated.
You can’t cut the US prison population substantially without releasing violent offenders from prison or by putting violent convictions on probation.
The Real Numbers
If we are talking about releasing violent offenders from prison, and if my experience is correct based on reviewing hundreds of records of offenders in the justice system, five previous criminal convictions (and scores of arrests) beyond the current charge was not unusual. 700,000 mostly violent offenders mean that approximately 3,500,000 additional people will become victims of crime based on previous convictions that were mostly plea-bargained from a more serious charge.
Placing violent offenders on probation carries considerable public safety implications. Those violent in prison either did something terribly wrong or they have substantial criminal histories. Either way, the public would be adversely impacted.
Considering the current vast increase in violent crime, this could have a dramatically negative impact on struggling cities, Crime in America.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the release of violent criminals likely is contributing to a significant spike in homicides and shootings. “This isn’t just happening in Detroit,” he said. “Cities across the country have seen violent crime go up. It’s not rocket science — when you let violent criminals out of jail, you run the risk of having more violent crime. If anyone thinks releasing these violent offenders back into the community isn’t having an effect on crime, they’re sorely mistaken,” The Crime Report
Many acknowledge that criminal justice reform is a necessary endeavor. We need to make sure that people in prison belong there; that they present a clear and present danger to the public or the court has run out of patience because of criminal history.
For example, judges in rural jurisdictions are notorious for long prison sentences. I am aware of a mentally ill burglar without a substantial criminal history who committed his property crimes in a rural area being sentenced to a ten-year term, a ridiculously long period of time that probably was better adjudicated via probation with mental health treatment.
Evey offender doesn’t need a term of incarceration. Every term of incarceration doesn’t need to be long.
But Mr. Biden’s potential release of 700,000 mostly violent criminals is simply dangerous to the American public. The real impact may be 3,500,000 additional crimes.
In my opinion, you can’t reduce the prison population significantly without releasing violent offenders.
If you are in prison, odds are that you committed a serious violent crime, or you have a history of violence, or you have a substantial criminal history. No one is in prison for drug possession or for a series of lesser property crimes. The odds are clear that most will return to crime and violence.
People are in prison because they present a public safety risk. Lesser offenders had their cases dismissed or were part of a deferred adjudication or were given probation.
That’s not to say that inmates shouldn’t be offered treatment programs. That’s not to say that there are tens of thousands of former inmates living productive, crime-free lives.
But most are in prison because of a violent crime. Fifty-five to fifty-eight percent are there for a crime of violence. If you included previous arrests and convictions for violence, the percentage would be much higher, probably in the range of 70-80 percent.
Regardless of the reasons, releasing 700,000 (or a substantial number) of mostly violent offenders has real implications for public safety.
Advocates will tell you that I’m fear-mongering and that most inmates can be safely released or that they are in prison because of a technical violation. They are lying.
Mr. Biden needs to rethink his position on prison releases (or alternatives) before it’s too late. Before the current election, Biden was a tough on crime advocate. I believe that his old beliefs will kick in. Releasing large percentages of the prison population would be political suicide.
See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.
Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.
US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.
National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.
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