The Corner

Our Overburdened Prison System

The vicious killing of the police officers in Tacoma, Wash., may well have political repercussions for Mike Huckabee, as others have noted here. The primary suspect is Maurice Clemmons, who in 1989 received a 95-year prison sentence that was later commuted, in 2000, by then–Governor Huckabee. Whenever Clemmons has been free, he seems to have perpetrated still more violent crimes, according to the news stories.

I would, however, caution against a blanket condemnation of pardons, as well as any hasty move to simply abolish parole. The American criminal-justice system is thoroughly swamped. Right now there are more than 7 million people under criminal-justice “supervision.” About 2.5 million are behind bars, and about 4.5 million are on probation or parole. This system is greatly overburdened by non-violent drug offenders. Conditions vary by jurisdiction, but in general there is no prison space left. So it is unrealistic for us to say, “If a prisoner violates parole, send him back to jail immediately!”

Of course, there are sensible ways in which to “triage” our overburdened system. The priority ought to be keeping violent thugs like Clemmons behind bars, not sending drug offenders back to prison for failing urine tests. Arkansas and Washington officials who failed to comprehend this basic point should be condemned and held to account.

But that is not enough. Given the overall state of our system, I would stress these facts: (1) prison space is limited; (2) tens of thousands of prisoners are released from prison every year; and (3) even the best wardens and parole officers can’t stop recidivists who are bent on a life of crime.

Bottom line: Take government officials to task for dumb calls. More important, let’s get our dysfunctional system on a better track. That means giving up the futile drug war so that our limited resources (police time, court time, prison space, parole system) can focus on the violent offenders.

– Tim Lynch is director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice.

Most Popular

A Few Cracks in the Progressive Wall

The contemporary progressive agenda — of, say, an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren — has rarely appealed to 51 percent of the American electorate. Most polls show opposition to Court packing and the abolition of the Electoral College. Voters don’t seem to like ... Read More

A Few Cracks in the Progressive Wall

The contemporary progressive agenda — of, say, an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren — has rarely appealed to 51 percent of the American electorate. Most polls show opposition to Court packing and the abolition of the Electoral College. Voters don’t seem to like ... Read More
Elections

Biden Is Still Underperforming Hillary

On October 20, 2016: Hillary Clinton was up 6.8 in the RealClearPolitics average in Pennsylvania. Today, Biden is up 3.8. (that race only tightened to 2.1 in the last week of 2016.) Clinton was up twelve points in Michigan on that day. Biden is up 7.5 right now. Clinton was up 6.5 in Wisconsin. Biden is ... Read More
Elections

Biden Is Still Underperforming Hillary

On October 20, 2016: Hillary Clinton was up 6.8 in the RealClearPolitics average in Pennsylvania. Today, Biden is up 3.8. (that race only tightened to 2.1 in the last week of 2016.) Clinton was up twelve points in Michigan on that day. Biden is up 7.5 right now. Clinton was up 6.5 in Wisconsin. Biden is ... Read More

Trump: No

Editor’s Note: The following is one of three essays, each from a different perspective, in the latest edition of National Review on the question of whether to vote for President Trump. The views below reflect those of the individual author, not of the NR editorial board as a whole. The other two essays can be ... Read More

Trump: No

Editor’s Note: The following is one of three essays, each from a different perspective, in the latest edition of National Review on the question of whether to vote for President Trump. The views below reflect those of the individual author, not of the NR editorial board as a whole. The other two essays can be ... Read More

Trump: Yes

Editor’s Note: The following is one of three essays, each from a different perspective, in the latest edition of National Review on the question of whether to vote for President Trump. The views below reflect those of the individual author, not of the NR editorial board as a whole. The other two essays can be ... Read More

Trump: Yes

Editor’s Note: The following is one of three essays, each from a different perspective, in the latest edition of National Review on the question of whether to vote for President Trump. The views below reflect those of the individual author, not of the NR editorial board as a whole. The other two essays can be ... Read More
Elections

Why Hunter?

Hunter Biden, Joe’s younger son, has become a fixture of the 2020 race. Since August 27, 2019, Donald Trump has tweeted about Hunter 59 separate times, making his colorful past one of the Trump campaign’s most important attacks on his rival. For many years, Hunter struggled with serious drug and alcohol ... Read More
Elections

Why Hunter?

Hunter Biden, Joe’s younger son, has become a fixture of the 2020 race. Since August 27, 2019, Donald Trump has tweeted about Hunter 59 separate times, making his colorful past one of the Trump campaign’s most important attacks on his rival. For many years, Hunter struggled with serious drug and alcohol ... Read More