Back in October when the Senate Judiciary Committee held its one-afternoon hearing on the landmark Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, I wrote:
There was an interesting exchange regarding where FBI Director James Comey. . .stands on this bill. During her testimony, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates seemed a little cagey on this subject. So Al Franken asked her flat out where Comey stands. . . .
Yates answered that Comey supports “the goals of sentencing reform.” That’s different, I assume, from supporting this piece of legislation.
Since then, Comey has spoken publicly about criminal sentencing. He says that the use of long mandatory minimum sentences had a positive effect on helping neighborhoods that 25 years were ridden with crime. He rejects the familiar claim that blacks (or anyone else) are being incarcerated “en masse.”
And though Comey praises efforts to achieve “more just” federal sentencing, he says the discussion must be thoughtful, based on a fair and honest understanding of history of how far we’ve come thanks to law enforcement in slashing the crime rate, and without resort to language that distorts reality.
Today, Comey testified again before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In response to questions from Sen. Jeff Session (see video below), he reiterated his objection to the the term “mass incarceration.” He again emphasized that, in considering sentencing reform, we have to remember where we were before the current system was put in place. Indeed, Comey said it’s hard to imagine how sharply crime has diminished since then.
Comey further observed that, as tough as the sentences have been, they had to be imposed to protect neighborhoods from crime. Finally, he pointed to the disturbing increase in violent crime that has occurred in many cities this year.
Asked directly by Sen. Jeff Sessions whether, given alarmingly high recidivism rates, we are “likely to see an increase in crime” the more people we release from prison (as would occur early in many cases under the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.” Comey answered “sure.”
As Comey noted, this is a matter of simple arithmetic. Early release of prisoners means more crime sooner — it’s a simple as that. Senators Patrick Leahy, Dick Durbin, Mike Lee and the rest of Team Leniency can’t deny something this obvious, so they ignore it.
They do so at our country’s peril.