This latest report from the JFA Institute, authored by a distinguished list of contributers, entitled, Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America's Prison Population, is must read material for conservative and liberal citizens, politicians, students of crime and punishment and serious criminologists who know their stuff in the area of the effects of a policy of mass imprisonment. Given the extraordinary cost of imprisonment--and the concomitant lost opportunities to spend money on alternative, proactive ways of managing the crime (or other) problems--we should be asking important questions about the use of our scarce resources.
Does imprisonment reduce crime by incapacitating offenders? Do rehabilitation programs provide the solution to the problems of crime? Does it make sense to lock up nonviolent offenders for long periods of time? Are current punishment levels consistent with what Americans want? If less severe (and less expensive) punishments have the same effects on recidivism as severe punishments, should we consider adopting them?
This is a frank and honest approach to these and other questions. It is not the conservative or liberal drivel that permeates discussion about whether people should be locked up and for how long. It also speaks to the political community that is so lacking in this debate--people who represent most Americans, who want genuine, long-term solutions to our crime problems rather than the costly lock-them-up mentality of elected representatives who respond to political fires with tough-on-crime rhetoric and drive-by (enhanced) sentencing legislation.
How could anyone not want to read a discussion about excessive punishment for crime that begins with such a quote from President Bush on 7.2.07:
"Mr. Libby was sentenced to 30 months of prison, two years of probation and a $250,000 fine...I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive."