I wrote here about Jason Pye’s attack on those who oppose leniency legislation for federal drug felons. One of my arguments addressed his claim that we shouldn’t fear that leniency legislation will cause dangerous felons to be released from prison early. Why is this not a valid concern? Because, says Pye, decisions about releasing felons will use “risk and needs assessment to determine [a prisoner’s] risk of reoffending.”
I countered that conservatives should reject the notion that the state consistently can make reliable assessments of this nature. Indeed, one of the main reasons the current system of tough mandatory minimum sentences came into being was that federal judges, in making such assessments, were naively issuing light sentences to the detriment of public safety.
You don’t have to have been a regular viewer of the O’Reilly Factor to know of cases in which state court judges released criminals who went on to commit heinous crimes. Nor do you have to hate the administrative state to understand that its foot soldiers aren’t capable of peering into the souls of criminals and consistently making accurate risk assessments.
Consider the case of Wendell Callahan, in which a relatively limited form of justice “reform” (the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010) directly led to the early release of a violent crack dealer with a history of beating up girlfriends. While he still would have been in prison but for leniency legislation, he killed his girlfriend and her two daughters, aged 10 and 7.
Was it worth these three lives to get Callahan released early under “criminal justice reform”? Can Pye guarantee there will be no additional such episodes if we start giving shorter sentences and early release on a far broader scale?
If he’s honest, Pye will concede that he can’t. In that case, the question becomes how many more Callahan-type episodes is he willing to tolerate as the cost of early release programs?
Lacking a satisfactory response to this line of argument, Pye resorts to name-calling. He accuses those who ask such questions of fear-mongering — as if it’s wrong to worry about the many additional crimes that recidivism statistics tell us with certainty will result from shorter sentences and early release.
The think tank gurus and leniency lobbyists who live in tony D.C. neighborhoods need not worry much about these crimes. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner certainly have nothing to fear. It’s people who live in places like where Callahan’s victims resided who would be placed at greatest risk.
We should fear for them and for the public at-large.