By Alan Bean
Sequestration means the federal government will have to make $85 billion in across the board budget cuts. While Americans like the idea of low taxes in the abstract, they won’t like the concrete consequences of this process. On the other hand, if the government is spending obscene amounts of money to make America less safe and more unequal, a few cuts might encourage some long-overdue rethinking.
Sequestration will mean a 5% cut to the Department of Justice. That’s 1.6 billion dollars, y’all. Since the federal prison system has exploded by 800% since 1980 during a period of falling crime it might be time to close some prisons and find less expensive ways of promoting public safety.
This post on The Hill’s Congress blog makes precisely this argument.
On first glance, these cuts may seem like bad news. But on closer inspection, “sweet are the uses of adversity.” One unintended consequence of the sequester is to offer the Justice Department an opportunity to rethink outdated criminal justice policies that simply don’t work and waste money.
The ACLU’s Blog of Rights puts it this way:
We have focused so much on locking people up in this country that we have ignored viable and fiscally sound alternatives to prison. It’s time for our elected officials to seriously consider criminal justice reforms that will maintain public safety while reducing the federal prison population. These reforms include eliminating mandatory minimum sentences drug sentences, expanding time credits for good behavior,enhancing elderly prisoner early and compassionate release programs, and making the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. We also need to eliminate programs like Operation Streamline that have added immigration prisoners to BOP who would need to be housed in new facilities, which would likely be privately operated.
Finally, an NPR story reveals that “the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency has released hundreds of immigration detainees ahead of Friday’s sequester deadline.” So the DOJ is already beginning to yield to the inevitable.