More evidence of our under-incarceration problem

I’ve argued that America has an under-incarceration problem. Criminals whose records clearly show they should be in jail have, instead, been released and are on the streets committing violent crimes, including some very bloody, high-profile ones.

Here’s another example. Samuel Harviley, paroled from prison less than three months ago, is being held without bond for shooting an off-duty Chicago police officer outside his home earlier this week. In withholding bond, the local judge said that Harviley “poses an extreme danger to the rest of us out in public.”

Indeed, he does. And he did three months ago when he was released early from jail.

Harviley was paroled from state prison on New Year’s Eve after serving four years of a nine-year sentence for a 2011 carjacking, an inherently dangerous crime. A nine year sentence is meaningless if it can be completed in four. Harviley’s early release always posed a danger to the community. Now, it has resulted in the shooting of a police officer.

How does Team Leniency respond to cases like this one? An unnamed Republican Senate aide is quoted as saying, in response to the even more egregious case of Wendall Callahan:

You’re never going to eliminate the Willie Horton type of situation, the political ads aside, of somebody coming out [of prison] and committing a crime. It’s the nature of the human being. You’re never going to have 100 percent certainty, that’s never going to happen. But it would be a shame to just not ever do any sentencing reform, any criminal justice reform, because of that.

Sentencing reform is, indeed, called for. The system should be reformed so that criminals like Harviley don’t get out of prison after serving less than their half of their sentence. As Chicago Patrol Chief Eddie Johnson says, the Harviley shooting illustrates that the criminal justice system “is broken.” He added:

Until we get real criminal justice reform, the cycle will continue. We have the laws here. We just need to make sure that these criminals are held accountable for their actions.

What a quaint notion.

But let’s return to the unnamed Senate staffer’s remark. Bill Otis has this to say about it:

If sentencing reform were not a cause being pushed by Barack Obama, Al Sharpton and Loretta Lynch, the “Republican aide’s” remark would be blasted, and rightly so, for its dismissive, boys-will-be-boys attitude toward the murders of black children and their mother.

To say that, well, hey, look, we can’t get everything right, so if little girls (girls who, had they been permitted to live, would have had next to no chance of getting a fat job in the Senate) get murdered by a drug pusher we released early, we just have to walk past that and move along with early release for yet more potential killers.

Bill goes on to argue that in any criminal justice system, some sentences will be too long and others not long enough. The question, then, is who should have to bear the costs of this inevitable fallibility. Should it be the criminal, who made his own choices, or the future victim, who never had a chance?

For anyone who values public safety and innocent life, the question answers itself.

Responses