Our under-incarceration problem, D.C. edition

A few days ago, the Washington D.C. police fatally shot 22-year-old Marqueese Alston. According to the police department, Alston fired on officers who chased him into an alley. The department has produced a photo of the gun they say Alston used.

The officers who chased Alston reportedly had their body cameras on, but as far as I know the footage has not been publicly released. Thus, we cannot say for sure that the officers’ version of events is accurate. However, there is no reason at this point to assume it is not.

Alston had been released from prison in March after serving 30 months for robbing a man of his car at gunpoint. At the time he was killed, Alston was on supervised release. He was barred from possessing a gun and from leaving the District, and was wearing a GPS bracelet so the Court Services & Offender Supervision Agency could keep track of his movements.

The shooting of Alston raises at least two noteworthy points. First, it confirms the futility of early, supervised release from prison. GPS bracelet or not, Alston was free to hang out in the crime infested area where he encountered, and fled from, the police. Prohibition on possessing a gun or not, he was, from all that appears, in possession of one.

Second, Alston’s sentence was ridiculously low. Carjacking at gun point netted him only 30 months of jail time. A properly functioning criminal justice system would have locked him for at least three times that long. If our system had, Alston would still be alive.

How did Alston get such a light sentence? He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of robbery and one count of illegal possession of a handgun. This is typical, and it undercuts complaints from the leniency crowd that, as a general matter, criminal sentences are too long. If anything, they are usually too short.

Alston then received a low end sentence for the offenses he pleaded guilty to, thanks to something called the Youth Rehabilitation Act. This despite the fact that the carjacking occurred in context Alston selling drugs.

The Youth Rehabilitation Act resulted in sentencing reduction, but no rehabilitation. Only recidivism. Expect the same thing if Congress is foolish enough to pass, and President Trump to sign, the FIRST STEP legislation being pushed by Van Jones and Jared Kushner.

Alston tried to serve even less than 30 months. He wrote to the sentencing judge asking for early release so he could take care of his fiance and newborn daughter. The judge was unmoved. However, one can imagine a different judge letting Alston out early.

Letting felons out of jail so they can be a presence in their children’s lives has become a fashionable argument for leniency. But thugs are unlikely to be a positive presence even in the lives of their children, and their presence on the street is obviously a big negative in terms of public safety.

Promoting public safety has always been an important purpose of the criminal justice system. Permitting felons to be with their children never has been and never should be.

Marqueese Alston’s experience is a typical tale — not his death but his apparent prompt return to criminality. The recidivism statistics tell us so. Team Leniency’s narrative to the contrary is a dangerous fantasy.

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