Turning a corner on incarceration?

Rick Holmes

Lots of news to mull over on the crime and incarceration front:

- I’ll have lots more to say about Radley Balco’s “The Rise of the Warrior Cop,” which I just finished. It’s a thorough account of a disturbing trend that happened while we should have been paying closer attention: The militarization of the police, the destruction of the centuries-old home-is-your-castle doctrine, the aggressive mindset of modern police. I just finished interviewing Elizabeth Warren for a column, and recommended she add it to her summer reading.

- Nick Kristof told a story in his Sunday column that illustrates much wrong with the criminal justice system today.  It involves an innocent man, a senseless mandatory minimum sentence, and another over-aggressive federal prosecutor enforcing a measure that shouldn’t be a federal crime in the first place.

- On the positive side, a federal judge has ruled New York City’s stop-and-frisk policies violate the constitutional rights of minorities. Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg vows to appeal the ruling.

- Best of all, AG Eric Holder today outlined a shift in tone and policies against the strategy of mass incarceration that has held sway for the last 30 years:

“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” he told the American Bar Association.  “Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable.  It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

The war on drugs/war on crime/mass incarceration age began with Nixon, and it will take a long long time to replace policies and practices that are inhumane and counter-productive. But I’m hopeful today that maybe we’re starting to turn the corner toward better approaches to drugs, crime, enforcement and punishment.