- Radley Balko, The Washington Post
Although prison populations at the federal level have very recently declined for the first time in decades, prisoner population at the state level rose. The cost of crime, some that can be measured and some that are impossible to measure, is undoubtedly high, but so too is the cost of incarceration. Are we striking the right balance in length of sentences? And what is the proper balance between latitude and sentencing guidelines for judges? Do the answers to these questions differ for the state versus the federal criminal justice system?
The Federalist Society's Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group presented this panel on "Criminal Sentencing Reform: A Conversation among Conservatives" on Friday, November 14, during the 2014 National Lawyers Convention.
At issue in Yates v. United States is the "anti-shredding" provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act which makes it a federal crime if one “knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object” with the intent to impede or obstruct a federal criminal investigation. John Yates was criminally prosecuted because he allegedly destroyed three fish that were too small to be caught legally. According to Mr. Yates, his prosecution was improper because he could not have had fair notice that a fish would be considered a “tangible object." Our expert attended the oral arguments and offered his impressions to a live Teleforum audience.
Until recently prisons have been the sacred cows in state budgets. They are the second fastest growing item in state budgets, second only to Medicaid. Conservative leaders in several states have enacted reforms that have saved billions by reserving costly prison beds for violent offenders, while punishing non-violent offenders in community programs, without increasing their crime rates. Do these reforms provide a roadmap for other states and the federal government?
Marc Levin, of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Pat Nolan of the American Conservative Union Foundation, are leaders of Right on Crime, a movement of conservatives working with the states to provide conservative and fiscally responsible solutions to their criminal justice problems. They described the specific reforms that have been utilized in states such as Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Ohio to cut their prison costs while also driving the crime rates down.