Pubdate: Tue, 28 Dec 2004
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2004 The Washington Post Company
Author: Julie Stewart
Bookmark: (Opinion)


I agree with Dan Bryant of the Justice Department that the debate on
fair and effective sentencing should be based on "facts, not
misleading rhetoric" [letters, Dec. 18]. However, Mr. Bryant lumped
together violent and repeat offenders from state and federal prisons
to argue that nearly everyone in prison is a major bad guy. Not so.
Someone with a prior record and a violent offender are not necessarily
the same -- in other words, Robert Downey Jr. is no Charles Manson.

Mr. Bryant argued that tough sentences are responsible for the recent
drop in crime. While locking up 2 million people undoubtedly has some
effect on crime rates, so do the economy, demographics and effective
policing. If incarceration rates and crime rates were directly
correlated, the states with the highest incarceration rates should
have the lowest crime rates. That isn't always the case. For example,
between 1991 and 2001, Arizona's incarceration rate increased by 24
percent and its crime rate fell by 18 percent, while New York's
incarceration rate grew by 11 percent but its crime rate fell by 53

Increased incarceration rates are due largely to drug offenses, which
are not calculated in crime rates. In 2002 40 percent of new
commitments to federal prison were for drug law violations. It should
follow then, that with growing numbers of drug offenders behind bars,
drug crime should drop. But the opposite is true. Drug offenses, as
measured by arrests, have risen dramatically since 1982, according to
the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

I accept Mr. Bryant's call for informed, factual debate on sentencing.
I urge him to follow the rules he lays down.

Julie Stewart President

Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation

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