The folly of empowering judges to go easy on criminals

I’ve written before about the problem of under-incarceration in America. Too many criminals who should be in jail are instead on the streets, having received ridiculously low sentences for prior offenses or having been released outright by liberal judges.

The under-incarceration problem manifested itself again this week. Tyrone Howard is a 30-year-old criminal with 16 prior arrests, mostly for drug offenses, and 12 prior incarcerations. He stands accused of shooting NYPD officer Randolph Holder in the head, killing the officer.

Howard’s most recent arrest occurred a year ago on a drug-related offense. Despite his long record, he served less than six months before being released into a “drug diversion” program.

Even New York’s leftist mayor Bill de Blasio admitted that Howard should not have been on the street.

But the judge who released Howard, Edward McLaughlin, disagrees. He has defended his decision, which was based on the theory that Howard’s previous offenses did not involve violence. Judge McLaughlin admitted he was unaware that Howard had been linked to a 2009 shooting that left three people wounded.

This case illustrates the problem with giving judges the discretion to let criminals off easy. Which brings us to the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.

If this legislation is enacted, thousands of felons who have not served their full sentence will be able to petition judges for early release on the theory that they would have already served their time under the lower sentences the “reform” legislation mandates. In many cases, these petitions will be reviewed by left-wing judges who are oh-so eager to help President Obama achieve his goal of reducing the prison population.

Keep in mind that Obama has appointed one-third of federal district judges. Democrats have appointed a majority of them.

We know as a matter of statistical certainty that many of those who will be released thanks the Grassley-Durbin-Lee, legislation will commit crimes within the period by which their sentence is reduced. According to Obama Justice Department statistics, the recidivism rate for felons within one year of release is almost 40 percent; within three years it’s around two-thirds. And these are just crimes that result in an arrest.

The proposed legislation also grants judges the ability to go easy on those who commit crimes going forward. Although Mike Lee and other proponents of the bill insist that it does away with no mandatory minimums, this is true only in a very technical sense. In reality, under Section 102 of the legislation, first-time “non-violent” drug offenders can escape the mandatory minimum if a judge finds that “reliable information” shows the mandatory minimum to be too harsh given the seriousness of the offender’s criminal history or the likelihood that he will commit other crimes.

Thus, a liberal judge can make findings that will negate the mandatory minimum. And the judge’s findings are unreviewable.

In defending his decision to release Tyrone Howard, Judge McLaughlin stated “I don’t get a crystal ball when I get a robe.” Neither do the federal judges that Sen. Lee and others seek to empower.

Lacking a crystal ball, judges tend to fall back on ideology. The ideology of the current federal bench is to the left of its counterpart in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s, when lenient sentencing fueled the crime wave that led to the mandatory minimums.

Granting this bench the power to release prisoners who were tried, convicted, and sentenced consistent with the law and to blow off mandatory minimums in some cases is a terrible idea. It will produce thousands of crimes.

We can only pray that none is as horrific as Tyrone Howard’s slaying of officer Randolph Holder.