Ed Meese denounces the rush to pass sentencing reform

Ed Meese was Attorney General of the United States when the nation finally said “enough” to crime and to the lenient sentencing by federal judges that was helping to fuel it. This was the beginning of reforms, most notably in the form of mandatory minimum sentencing, that led to a 50 percent reduction in crime.

Naturally, then, Meese is concerned about the attempt of a “gang” of bipartisan Senators to ramrod through “reform” legislation that would make sentencing more lenient. He expresses his concern in an article in The Hill. The article is co-written by Ron Hosko, a former assistant director at the FBI, and president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.

Meese is critical of the legislation at the substantive level:

In its current form, this sweeping sentencing bill reduces too many mandatory minimum sentences, would result the early release thousands of violent criminals, and could make our streets far more dangerous. Unless changed, this bill would also give current repeat drug conspirators – who arguably poison thousands of people a year with their illegal products – far less severe sentences.

In addition, Meese deplores the process through which proponents are pushing the legislation through the Senate:

[T]he ultimate sign of Beltway arrogance is that the bill’s sponsors propose passing it with only one short hearing. In other words, like Obamacare, “We have to pass it to learn what’s in it.” We believe that the Congress must hear from the law enforcement community, from prosecutors and judges, and other informed professionals who can fully explore and openly explain the bill’s repercussions. The world’s most deliberative body owes no less to its constituents. . . .

The proposed Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is 141 pages long and laden with references to prior law, making clear understanding of its intent and potential impact more difficult. . .A bill of this importance requires careful study and thorough understanding.

As with any new legislation that might dramatically impact both our national budget and public safety, lawmakers need to be fully informed of the projected impacts of the proposed law and Congress should demonstrate the greatest transparency of motives, benefits, and risks in a way that garners the informed support of the people.

None of that is occurring with this legislation.

Meese continues:

Only through substantive hearings with experts, particularly those from law enforcement, and a meaningful review of sentencing data and recidivism projections that show that we can expect 67 percent of released prisoners to be rearrested within three years and 75 percent of them rearrested within five years, might our lawmakers and the public understand how this bill will impact both convicted felons and an apprehensive citizenry.

That’s not happening either. Today’s hearing (the only one that will occur) was long (well, three hours anyway) on advocacy and short on empiricism. Only two of the witnesses are currently involved in law enforcement. Some statistics were bandied about, but there was no rigorous analysis of sentencing and recidivism data.

No wonder the former Attorney General is calling on the Senate to take a step back. The gains in fighting crime that the Reagan administration helped initiate are too hard-won and too important to be jeopardized by this rush to legislate.