Crime and Punishment and Obama

Where’s the community organizer when we need him?


Comments: 171

  1. I don't know, does this move make you a platform diver, diving from a lofty perch of advocacy through journalism to a more action-oriented venture in the tidal pool itself?

    I wish you all the best, I personally think it's a very important subject. I am sure we could be a lot "smarter" about how we handle punishing crimes. It seems to me that we end up tripping over our need to do things that make (some of) us feel better emotionally, whether or not they are helpful to having a criminal justice system that is effective and does not create new problems.

    One broad attitude shift I'd like to see is to distinguish better between the offending behavior and the person, not just in the criminal justice system itself but in society in general.

  2. Good column, Mr, Keller.
    The Marshall Project sounds like a very good fit for you.
    Thank heavens you are not getting involved in foreign policy advocacy. :-)

  3. Mr Keller, as a staunch admirer and a sometime critic of your views, I for one will miss your considerable input and effect in the NYT. That you could display some optimism, as you have today, has impressed and encouraged me to believe that the people of our magnificent nation have a great deal more in common than our political squabbles would indicate; being part and parcel of our heritage, and could lead one to believe that there is yet a chance to solve some of the problems which you have discussed.

    The ten percent of Americans who follow politics on a continuing day to day basis, aside from the politicians, Washington professionals, and lobbyists, have, though we would like to believe otherwise, little or no effect on the business of the nation. You may have in your new capacity the chance to influence events, and I for one, on the Conservative side of the aisle, hope that your opinion is taken into account. You are a decent' honest man, and likely to represent the greater good for the people of the nation.

    Our Republic, our Democracy, has endured a long spell of contentious politics and disagreement which has cost us dearly. It is time to begin to repair the fissures and you Mr Keller have the opportunity to influence the future. I trust for now your tepid assessment of Mr Holder; his wishful thinking; and then your assessment; is scary. The remainder of the Obama tenure will elicit more comments from you and I sincerely hope that they are positive.

  4. The emphasis on changing prisons The Marshall Foundation will undertake focuses on one of the most important problems facing the U.S. All should join in urging Barak Obama and all elected officials to make the important changes so urgently needed.

  5. President Obama has been hamstrung in most everything he's done. You said it yourself: he's faced Republican opposition that's almost reflexive. I think my newest joke will be that, should any GOP leaders decide global climate change is real, they will blame it on Obama.

    But, leave aside how everything he's tried to do has been hamstrung, from budget deals to Obamacare (which itself was a huge compromise to the political right-wing from the get-go) to appointing Executive-branch people to judicial appointees to treaties. Leave all that aside. Let me explain a possible reason for his cautious approach.

    You see, I know someone who has a Harvard degree. Despite her high quality of education, she routinely feels like she's put under a microscope when she's out and about. Her skin color is the same as our president's, you see. She's told me about going into stores and being shadowed because the store management *knew* that, since she was black, she might try to steal something.

    Most any black person in a position of power has that same microscope applied to the Nth degree. It breeds a reflexive caution, and a mindfulness that you need to be a sterling example or else you feed into a negative stereotype.

    Unfortunately, President Obama has been forced very solidly into the role of the incrementalist leader. Still, I admit that he doesn't seem to have tried very hard to get out of that role.

  6. I will really miss your column Mr Keller, with all that wisdom and attitude...so carefully parsed and skillfully expressed. I wish I could say something nice about Obama, but we are all beginning to finally understand that his lack of action in so many critical areas has nothing to do with some carefully thought out policy, he's just not paying attention.

  7. President Obama knows full well what the problems are facing the inner city youth males in particular. But to think he would come into office and cure the many years of racism and cultural deprivation is at best unrealistic since he himself has also seen first hand these same tactics used against him. I never expected him to be a miracle worker. I pray he is soon out of office so he can continue to take care of his family.When I see the vicious and vile disrespect he has received in the land of the free and the home of the brave I want to vomit. We talk a good game but how we living? Common speech intended.

  8. well said

  9. @grannyrn

    I had similar thoughts about President Bush in his final years. The level of vitriol and downright hatred directed at him was alarming. While politically I disagree with President Obama on many things, he deserves my respect as the elected leader of my country. I'd love to see this trend of vilifying those with whom we disagree (especially our Presidents) reverse itself soon.

  10. "What is the quality of your intent?"

    "I have a lifetime appointment and I intend to serve it. I expect to die at 110, shot by a jealous husband."

    -- Thurgood Marshall

    It is a pretty glorious platform, but there's no greater cause than justice. We'll see if the president does leave a powerful legacy on this. I hope so. May you live to be 110, maintaining always the quality of your intent. (Don't get shot.)

  11. In 2010:
    900,000 Americans were arrested for simple possession of marijuana.
    In 2010:
    O thieves at Goldman, JPMorgan Chase, AIG et al who nearly bankrupted the West, cost Americans 40% of their household wealth, caused countless trillions of dollars of damage worldwide and ruined millions of lives, were arrested, charged or incarcerated.

  12. Federal Prosecutors under Holder are arguing that there's nothing wrong with mass incarceration and that mandatory minimum sentences are essential to winning the war on crime. Obama and holder won a case against the retroactive application of laws designed to correct drug sentencing disparities - and their opponents were the NAACP Legal defense fund. The Executive Director of the NAACP Legal Defense fund along with other black "civil rights leaders' met with Obama last week, and she praised Obama for personally commuting the sentences of black prisoners who suffered under this unfair law, although Obama and Holder went up against the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to fight against retroactive application of laws designed to correct disparities in sentencing. Some black scholars including those at the Black Agenda Report believe that Shirlyn Iffill, the Executive Director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who praised Obama for his go slow approach pertaining to mass incarceration of black persons as a result of unfair sentencing laws - and Obama are part of a black misleadership class who don't really care about the civil rights of the African American community as evidenced in part by their approach to unfair sentencing laws.

  13. Obama is an advocate of civil rights for African Americans and has been prior to his signing of the Fair Sentencing Act 2010 and even before he was president. Please look at the big picture and not get stuck in the politics of ephemeral entangling alliances.

  14. Although I am sorry to see you go, your timing is spot on. We live in a punitive society in the US and the racial/ethnic slant to sentencing is talked about quite a bit in my circles but little changes. We worked hard to get two young African American men paroled when it became clear that of the three charged with the same crime, one got 7 years, two got 21 and 23 years. Guess which way the pendulum swung for these two young men?

    The justice system is a complex set of issues beginning with education, neglect of communities of lower socioeconomics, racial bias, and lack of funding to elevate communities as a whole. The school to prison pipeline is also moving entire populations from life with a future to a life cut short.

    I wish you well, and I have already signed up for emails from the new website. Never give up, keep the pressure on us as a nation, fight for fair and equitable justice for everyone. A fair system applied equally will only benefit us as a society.

  15. Insightful and provocative, as always. Thank you, Bill, for your years of service at The Times. Best wishes for your new venture. You are a true American treasure.

  16. I agree wholeheartedly with BM from CA.

  17. Given prison doesn't work per you article, so what do you actually suggest?

  18. Recent editorial---6 million Americans without a voice—re those released from prison prevented from voting and other civil rights. Sen. Paul was quoted “the punishment and stigma continues for the rest of their life, harming their families and hampering their ability to re-enter society.”

    Thus the US justice system is a reminder of Les Miserable-- the 19th C ex-convict Jean Valjean, who cannot escape his criminal past no matter what he does. Why don’t they make a Broadway musical out of that someday—updated for current America.

    America the Beautiful now bars increasing numbers of ex offenders who’ve served their time from many jobs, school loans, housing benefits. And it’s left up to the states, without any federal supervision to guarantee rights. States Rights are more important than basic justice.

    Also see Times editorial, Lessons From European Prisons, Nov 7, re the vast difference in sentencing between many countries and the US. This was an enlightening article about the findings of US prison officials touring other nations, where the main goal is to reintegrate offenders into society as functioning law abiders. Other countries, like Portugal, have reduced drug use with more rational sentencing and rehab for drug offenders.

  19. Punishment for a crime must be commensurate with the offense; if violent, incarceration will, by force, be longer, even when methods of rehabilitation are introduced (and public jails seem to be doing a better job that private contractors in that regard). Insofar non-violent crimes, more lenience may be indicated, particularly in cases where the law is not up to date 're' harsh punishment for drug use and/or distribution; it is expensive and not efficacious. Marijuana needs to be decriminalized...and all those thus imprisoned should be freed and rehabilitated, with all their rights as citizens (voting, of course), not stigmatized for life (an invitation for re-incidence) returned. That is, if Obama really has the guts for it (and Holder is leading the way already). As it stands, the U.S., with 5% of the world's population, holds the dubious distinction of holding some 22% of all prisoners (Russia is next). So, we have a bit over two million prisoners, 90% are men (and one raises the issue of testosterone as possibly one of our violent traits); 40% are black, 20% latin. And if one combines imprisoned fellows with the one's on parole or probation, the number swells up to more than six millions. And not counting 'juveniles yet (another 70 K). as to why our indifference to this national disaster escapes me. Urgent action for a new paradigm is needed, it is not only too expensive to maintain, it serves no other purpose but punishment; and some of it is cruel and beyond repair.

  20. There are and have been too many cop shows and movies for too many decades.

    For police, advancement and pay increases are the defacto quota system.

    Hundreds of years of legislating gave way to the land of laws, and laws, and laws..........

    We used to be called the "Land of Freedom". People came here for opportunity and freedom.

    Now immigrants are treated like criminals.

    How ironic that a President from Illinois would preside over a new slavery.

  21. Immigrants are not treated like criminals. Maybe you meant illegal immigrants?

  22. Anybody disobeys our law is a criminal ..:what else would you call them?

  23. I concluded after being elected to the Colorado House of Representatives that reforming our criminal justice system to repeal mandatory sentences, differentiate among degrees of sex offenders, bring some proportionality back to the length of sentences, and really work on preparing offenders for reentry was the most pressing problem our society faced. I ran as an environmentalist and I'm proud of the bills I passed on that subject. We all need to be environmentalists. But there are few of us in a position to change the criminal just system, so those who are in that position must seize that opportunity. There are 63 million Americans with some sort of arrest or criminal record. Surely we aren't that lawless a society. We need to stop reflexively using the threat of a felony conviction to stop behavior we don't like or motivate behavior we like. That's a really blunt tool and we are far more creative than that. The Vera Institute people have contributed greatly to this conversation. Here in Colorado the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition is a leading advocate for sensible reforms. The tough/soft on crime dichotomy is obsolete. Nobody goes there except the desperate. I'm glad Keller will be an advocate. Let's take a cold hard look at sentencing from top to bottom and work on a just society.

  24. Mr Keller, I admire what you are doing and I'm sure you will make The Marshall Project a success. In my opinion, our criminal justice system has been broken for a long, long time. I think it is a product of a broken political system where demagoguery, hypocrisy and just plain hatred have become commonplace. When the probable future Governor of Texas( currently the Attorney General) can get away with allowing one of his notorious supporters to call Obama a "subhuman mongrel" how can we expect him to hold up the banner of social justice for all? Obama has been way too slow and rather wishy washy on the subject of social justice for the poor and underserved. I just can't visualize him as a community organizer in South Chicago. I know that area well and I worked as a community organizer in a similar community an hour North. If Obama knows South Chicago and has an ounce of empathy, he would be using his office to make a difference and help end a corrupt judicial system that provides the majority of Americans "the best justice money can buy."
    view the men and women

  25. No discussion of large, and increasing size, of the human population in the U.S.A. - at present the third largest nation, by population size, fronted only by China and India. The "pie" can only be cut into so many slivers, akin to the limit in the number of times a piece of paper of any size can be folded. Certainly not the only reason, but the larger of all reasons.

  26. I know you need to be "fair and balanced", but I can't begin to describe how tired I am of seeing excuses offered for the failure of our president to do something ... or even seriously attempt it. When have we ever before made such excuses for a president? In the past, we have demanded almost inhuman effort and effectiveness of our presidents; and, largely due to the demands, we sometimes even got them.

    The issue today is crime and punishment, where a rational approach to both resulting in a less barbaric reality would have been worth both a mass and a legacy. But equally worthy of a legacy would have been a far more stable world; or an entitlement framework that was affordable and effective at helping our people be less and not more dependent, instead of a healthcare program that serves as mere accretion to a mess Mr. Obama once campaigned on transforming then ignored; or on an early recognition that automation, for the first time in human history, was displacing millions of jobs and not creating new ones to take their place, and programs to address the challenge. And many other issues of similar heft would have been fit justification for a legacy. As it stands, with less than three years to go ... he's the guy who gave the go-ahead to waste Osama bin Laden.

    Might he have been more energetic about crime and punishment, and all the other immense needs of our society, if people had been less ready to make excuses for him for over five years?

  27. "I can't begin to describe how tired I am of seeing excuses offered for the failure of our president to do something ... or even seriously attempt it."

    As a progressive I agree completely. And I often wonder: if the Republicans weren't so united & intransigent, whom would we blame?

  28. I couldn't fit a version of this in to my 1500-character main comment, but I felt the following was both appropriate and necessary, and wasn't willing to leave it on the cutting-room floor.

    The Times and its readership soon will be losing an editor and a leader who has contributed a great deal to the paper over a 30 year career there, and for some time an incisive observer who has brought a thoughtful and balanced perspective to the issues of the day. We'll all be poorer for the loss, and I'm sure we all wish Bill continued effectiveness, contribution and fulfillment in his new role spearheading a very important initiative. We'll miss him.

  29. Obama has been stymied by the Republicans on most of his agenda. That said he has also shown why it is not the best idea to focus on skin color too much. If we want the systemic problems that drag the people living on the margins, we must elect a proven compassionate politician and not simply a smartest guy in the room --smart guys can always be hired.

  30. The author pushes his wishful thinking. Decriminalizing some laws does not mean less crime and better outcomes. To think that soft sentencing and not the fear would stop a crime is just political farce.
    in any case, I am sure the issue is very complicated one where for every "too strong sentence" there is three "got off too easy" ones.

  31. Bill,

    I would be insincere if I wished you well in your future project. People make choices, sometimes the wrong choices. When people make the wrong choices they put other people at risk. One of the basic tenants of our civilization is the protection of the many from the few. The protection of their person as well as their property from the few who would do them harm or pray on them.

    There are few ways to accomplish this and incarceration is one of them, parole is an other. The first is dangerous to the criminal, the second is dangerous to everyone. Recidivism is a fact of life now and in the past. In spite of the best efforts of legions of social scientists the only sure way to stop most criminals is to incarcerate them. Nothing else works anywhere on earth!

    The rights of the many to live free from fear transcends the rights of the few to pray on them. We should strive to cure the causes of criminality, but until that day allowing criminals to pray on the population is to default on society's most basic duty.

    Should those criminals who have paid their debt be allowed the privilege of again voting or owning a gun? Perhaps after some number of years of good behavior. Returning the privilege in the hope that it will engender the desired behavior is to place the cart before the horse without any basis to believe it will accomplish the desired effect as well as flying in the face of every study of criminal behavior.

  32. "One of the basic tenets of our civilization is the protection of the many from the few".....well, if that were true there'd be a lot of Wall St. banksters in prison, but there are not. But yet we'll lock somebody up for years for non-violent marijuana 'crimes' and we taxpayers foot the bill. I'd like the 'many' to revolt against such madness and demand the real criminals spend time in prison. And not country club prisons, either.

  33. So you think someone smoking marijuana is "praying" on society. I quoted that, because you evidently don't know the difference between pray and prey. There are always going to be a rather small percentage of people who will need to be warehoused as they can never function in society. However, recidivism is made worse by the brutal isolation from society imposed on people who were not threats to society in the first place.

    Throw in the barriers placed in the face of prisoners who have served their time, and it's no surprise that many fall back into criminal behavior. Oh yes, and prisons should definitely not be the means by which we "treat" mental illness, or drug addiction.

  34. You seek to bolster some of your points by describing certain policies as "...flying in the face of every study of criminal behavior." You've read them all?

  35. Votes for prisoners, Will this guy ever stop???

  36. We can't even get the people who haven't lost the right to vote to go to the polls! And when they do, a lot of the time they vote either on party lines, regardless of the candidate, or for the guy whose name they vaguely remember. You could elect Attila the Hun on the GOP ticket - some would vote for him because they've heard that name before and figure he must be the incumbent; some because they figure anyone named Attila the Hun must be a hardliner on taxes; some because they always vote the straight GOP ticket, just like their dad and grampy and great-grampy did. Hail democracy!

    Restoring the franchise to ex-cons is an empty gesture. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it; just that we should recognize it for what it is.

  37. Thank you Mr. Keller for your many fine and well etched thoughts over the years with The Times. We will miss you. And we wish you well in your new endeavor. I personally am glad that you right away used the word "broken" in describing our system. Hopefully, we will see intelligent news coverage and editorials leading to understanding that incarceration is inappropriate and non-useful for non-violent crimes, but is only necessary to protect society from rape, assault, armed robbery and murder. Secondly, The Marshall Project will provide our leaders the reasoning why we need to legalize drugs. For white-collar crimes (like Ponzi fraud), The Marshall Project will propose restitution and public service--what good does incarceration do? And since drugs will be legal, the prisons will be only half full. This will be a great start!

  38. It's worth noting that since he has been in prison Bernie Madoff has not cheated a single person out of their life savings. It is also worth noting that most if not all of the people responsible for the recent financial problems (The people that Eric Holder won't put in prison) are still cheating people out of their life savings.

    Do you not see a clear pattern here?

  39. Leadership would be recommending repeal of almost all the "drug" laws, that cause much more harm than the "drugs" themselves (if that were the reason they are illegal, we'd outlaw tobacco and alcohol---whoops, tried that one once, and it didn't work so well), and give a complete pardon (expunging the record) to anyone guilty only of nonviolet "drug" offenses.

    The right to vote is irrelevant. It doesn't figure in anyone's thinking. But Holder probably thinks the Democrats could get a few more votes that way.

  40. Congratulations! Your new project is needed.

    I hope your analysis will cover the problem that funnels young people in bad neighborhoods into crime: the lack of jobs that lead anywhere. Many who live in a place where honest work barely pays and see others flashing money earned running drugs or selling drugs join them and land in prison. Yes to therapy for drug addiction, yes to fixing the criminal injustice system but the best prevention is entry level jobs that lead to jobs that pay a living wage.

  41. One of the usually unspoken reasons our criminal justice system, especially our prisons, is largely dysfunctional is that we do not have a consensus as to what the system is supposed to be doing.

    The varying names we use make that clear: prison, correctional institution, rehabilitation center, penitentiary, etc. Each implies a different purpose. Are we mainly trying to punish people, prevent them from committing more crimes, deter others from committing crimes, rehabilitate people, extract vengeance, assuage the pain of victims, provide justice, or what?

    Unless and until we have a broad and fundamental national discussion regarding objectives, we will get nowhere with "reform." It is not sufficient to know where we want to leave, if we are trying to develop the political will to make change. We also need to know where we want to go.

    The criminal justice system has numerous constituencies, from those who stand to profit off the misery of others to those who have a passion for justice (that in itself a collection of variously defined constituencies) to those whose approach is primarily moralistic (also variously defined) to those who fear becoming victims, and many others.

    Bill, I hope in your new capacity you will advocate for a clarification of purpose, before you get totally immersed in policy. We need to all be speaking the same language when we speak of "criminal justice", before we can be successful in creating the political will to make substantive change.

  42. Well, he had the economic crisis, the herculean task of health care reform, those tireless and petty Republicans, and George Bush in his way.
    George H. W. Bush that is. He who unleashed the Willie Horton political ad on America. Its always those Bushes, isn't it?
    Well, with all that to deal with, could even a man who can make the oceans recede possibly do anything about our horribly broken and racist justice system?
    Apparently not.
    And thus President Obama, along with his 41 percent approval rating, is further crowned with the stinging disappointment of one of his more reliable media lap-dogs, none other than Bill Keller himself.
    A reader is left only to ask: is there no justice in the world?
    No, not in the world of President Obama.
    -John Dooley, Minneapolis, MN

  43. Just to be historically accurate, it was Al Gore in the presidential primaries of '88 who first brought Willie Horton to the fore.

  44. Yea, I miss W. What a great time we had back then.

  45. I forgot how long ago it was, but it was not a recent transition, prisons got privatized. Before that the government operated them completely. Under a Republican administration a new industry was born and that's when sentencing got out of hand. There's a profit motive involved in keeping as many as possible under lock and key. I believe that this is a big part of the problem. If a financial incentive is created to commit horrific acts with devastating consequences in the lives of millions of people, traumatizing millions of innocent children, conscience never seems to prevail in this "democracy".

    I'm glad you're trying to make a change. I hope you succeed. Good luck.

  46. Your correct there is a motive here. Criminals locked up in a prison can't murder, rape, or rob their neighbors! There is a "Profit motive" as well. That motive is it allows the people that the criminals would normally pray on to keep their lives and property thereby profiting from their hard honest work.

    Do you have a problem with that?

  47. Actually, longer sentences preceded prison privatization. The longer sentences increased the cost of operation to the point where the government had to bring in efficient private enterprises to make the budget work.

  48. @QED - you're joking of course! Efficient private enterprises - that is one of the three great lies...

  49. Best of luck in the new venture. it's important.

  50. "I’ll be watching, and hoping that Holder’s prediction is more than wishful thinking. "

    Like Dusty Springfield, we'll be "Just wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin', plannin' and dreamin'"... BUT WE WON'T BE EXPECTING Obama to change. No, no... no! Holder? Fuh-gedda-bout-it.

    Still, one never knows, do one? Gotta keep up your hopes, or you might go crazy.

  51. Before addressing anything else I offer you my thanks and best wishes.
    While I don't want this comment to be taken as snarky, ill mannered or simply rude I will ask if what appears to be a coat of greasepaint is just that?
    With Mr. Obama's election I had a conviction we as a people would finally get a voice; an educated, well schooled, well grounded, courageous voice.
    I am no longer convinced. Worse my kids are cynical.
    I can only hope there is a rabbit and he will pull it from the hat.

  52. If Obama made your kids cynical, you should be thanking him for giving them a firm grounding in reality and removing their illusions.

  53. With all due respect, Sir, as you are most certainly qualified to opine about our president in your capacity as an op-ed writer for the NYT, I feel you are missing the boat here.

    Your final assumption seems to be one of faith: faith that President Obama will do the right thing. That's the same faith that brought Obama into office in the first place. The ability to generate this kind of faith, even among intellectuals like you, is his greatest strength. It's what garnered him an embarrassing Nobel Peace Prize only a few months into office, before he'd done anything at all (not to mention what he did later-- extend American wars in the Middle East; execute US citizens abroad without trial via drone attack, fail to close Guantanamo as promised, wire-tap telephone and internet records of MILLIONS of everyday Americans).

    S0 this faith, this crazy groundless faith (and I myself bear the shame of having voted for Obama), has led millions of Americans into support of a health care law that has caused their insurance policies to be cancelled, but they find themselves with premiums vastly increased for a coverage that is worse than before, and a mandate to purchase insurance from huge corporate insurance companies.

    To be fair, you article is detailed, and carries some dissent, but it ends with "I'll be watching, and hoping..."

    Wow. It is truly amazing to me that ANYONE, let alone an NYT writer, would still use the word "hope" with regard to this discredited president.

  54. Very well stated, Jon. Thank you for bring clarity to the Obama record and to Bill's "wishfull thinking."

  55. I have absolutely no faith in Pres. Obama anymore. Not a whit. What a waste of an opportunity to better our country. 8 years wasted as he continues on this journey. He could have helped so many people but he has chosen not to because, as Keller says, he doesn't really have the courage to lead the people to a better place. He could use the bully pulpit to do so much good, but for whatever his own reasons, he chooses not to.

  56. This president has been subjected to a constant barrage of lies, distortions and obstruction. He is not discredited except in the opinions of those that hated him before he unpacked his bags at the White House and it seems you have joined them. Get rid of the obstructive bad pols like McConnell, Lee, Cruz and their ilk and we will have a government and president that can operate on our behalf.

  57. Don't listen to what he says, watch what he does. Parties at the White House, expensive trips to fancy resorts, campaign events with billionaires to raise funds for his campaign.

    Do the poor and imprisoned give big campaign contributions? No. The only thing they can give is their votes, and Obama figures he can get another six million votes in the Democrat column. So if he gets their votes anyway, why should he help them?

  58. And where, pray tell, should the president take his vacation? At a Motel 6?

    The Kennedys, Reagans, Bushs had their family owned 'resorts'. And since when do the imprisoned 'give their votes'?

    I think, as Kevin Rothstein already remarks, that your finding him too 'uppity' has a completely different reason than policies.

  59. Jonathan, they ALL do that. Obama cannot be blamed for giving parties at the White House. Sheesh. Reagan did it. Just look at how much money Nancy spent. There are so many more valid complaints against this president and the job he's doing. Leave this one alone.

  60. Jonathan, the ACA strictly limits deductibles, has held premiums steady or lowered them for equivalent levels of coverage, provides subsidies for the working class, and except where totally heartless, unchristian state governments have blocked it, free healthcare to the truly poor. Why do you start with a totally false claim like this?

    There is real reason to criticize Obama's attitude towards incarceration. It's not just that jailing the poor is fine with him, if we look at his actions and not his rhetoric, but that the rich are never to be jailed. Fraudulently selling collateralized mortgages is far worse than selling crack. It damages more lives. If we're going to be a jail-happy society, why are Obama's and Holder's high-society friends treated so well no matter what laws they break?

    Cynics conclude that Obama's brand of Democrat is little different from a Republican in the unqualified worship of wealth.

  61. Mr. Keller is has been a pleasure to read your articles; they were so well crafted. Your first project in your new enterprise might be to find out what is really going on in the jail at Riker's Island. It sounds as if it needs to be closed or the methodology of handling prisoners changed. Finally putting people in jail for long periods of time because they use drugs is obviously a failure. They need medical treatment; they might be able to access this more easily under the new health system. So I will be interested to see if you address the issues I have mentioned in your future enterprise.

  62. These are very difficult issues to handle, even in circumstances where there are well-meaning people who effectively apply large amounts of resources. People in these areas are involved in crime because there is now a whole culture which reinforces this behavior as cool, rather than condemning it as irresponsible. Police go after the low level people because it is easy, rather than doing the more difficult task of tackling the higher-level people who profit from the drugs, gambling and prostitution, and who finance it.

    The Tea Party types don't want to send government money on something that they think they can be solved by religious conversion. People go on diets and lose weight, then they gain it all back; the same thing happens with religious conversions, the effects are temporary in most cases.

    The thing that will make the most difference is funding Head Start, and its family interventions, up through fifth grade. But instead, it looks like we're just going to let the drug legalization crowd win and we'll have a larger bunch of economically deprived stoners than we have already.

  63. Until Americans get off recreational drugs of all types, the illegal distribution will pay more to a young man than a normal job, even if minimum pay goes to $10 or even $15 per hour. Decriminalizing entry drugs is no solution. So far rehabilitation of young addicts has been mostly ineffective. I would suggest that we should concentrate our efforts on the users, not the providers. At the same time, there is no doubt that until now, we arrest and prosecute a disproportionate number from minorities and poor whites and impose ridiculously harsh sentences, especially on repeat offenders. Moreover, prisons are breeding grounds for all the wrong habits and skills we want and expect our youth to acquire. In short, the current approach is a dismal failure from top to the bottom we have reached.

  64. Are you also, I hope, suggesting that we wean our population off of Ritalin, Adderall, Xanax, Prozac, and legal prescription pain killers like oxycontin?

  65. Paul, some people do need these drugs.

  66. The injustices of the "justice" system cannot be addressed without addressing plea bargaining, the most insidious, and most appalling, contributor to the prison industrial complex. Plea bargaining should be illegal, and prosecutors using it should be charged with bribery and suborning perjury. If you or I offered money in exchange for a lie under oath in court, we would be prosecuted for suborning perjury. but if the prosecutor offers years off a prison sentence (or no jail time at all), which is far more valuable than any cash inducement, for someone to confess to something they did not do, backed by threats of long sentences, they are using their "discretionary power." This isn't justice, it's blackmail.

  67. I agree that our current plea-bargaining practices are deeply flawed. They have, however, become an integral part of the criminal justice system, where only a small fraction of cases proceed to trial. As it stands, the abrupt cessation of plea-bargaining would grind our criminal courts to a halt. Effective changes, if they are to come, will necessarily be systemic, slow, and costly. While I believe the system is in dire need of reform, I fear that society lacks the political will to expend the resources needed to effect real change. Shining a bright light on the inner-workings of plea-bargaining is a necessary first step. Casual observers are not likely to see anything inherently unjust in the contract-like negotiations between prosecutors and defense lawyers (except that many seem to feel that guilty defendants get off too easy), so why try to fix what isn't broken? I hope (but am not particularly optimistic) that widespread education on the extraordinarily coercive nature of our current plea-based policies will, at the very least, start a serious national debate on the issue.

  68. Plea bargaining is most often a matter of the accused pleading to a lesser offence in order to get a lighter sentence, not of the innocent pleading to an offence they didn't commit. And if you think our justice system is a mess now, just wait until every - single - case has to go to trial, with a grand jury and a trial jury and attorneys on both sides in court.

  69. Our "criminal justice" system is a cruel joke. Designed by politicians who score cheap political points by dreaming up new ways to railroad defendants, guilty or innocent, into prison, and to make prison more imaginatively cruel. It's morally equivalent to the gladiator spectacles of ancient Rome. I can't think of a more worthy cause to tackle. My guess is that we'll have politicians who pay serious attention to the situation when prisoners have enough money to make large political donations. I wish you luck.

  70. " morally equivalent to the gladiator spectacles of ancient Rome. "....true, just updated for our times in the reality show format.
    The 'Lockup" prison TV series is on Msnbc every Fri/sat/sun in aft or eve. These faux documentaries show life inside the various prisons, using the prisoners and the guards and personnel for the entertainment of the public outside. Supposed to be educational? I find it disgusting for the nation with the highest percent of population jailed, that these shows are even made, much less shown.

  71. The writer makes many valid points concerning the criminal justice system. However, the dysfunctional family that many of the incarcerated come from has more to do with the reasons that the majority of our "prison clients" are serving hard time. Morality, whether good or bad, can not be legislated. The same goes for leadership. Attempting to lead from the rear of the pack is sheer lunacy. Attempting to lead a nation by surrounding self with people who have never been more than mediocre at building consensus, adept at putting make up on goats & proving that they have never learned the dynamics of real day after day, gut grinding, team building leadership for the benefit of the nation is pure insanity! I do not know the nature, form or fit that our President's legacy will take as the ages roll on. Yet I do know these things. Standing in a "Bully Pulpit" does not prove up leadership. Speaking from a "Bully Pulpit" does not prove that you can lead. Know what? I am waiting for someone to lead America's dysfunctional electorate by their own wisdom, tact, diplomacy, personal actions & their love for the tenets that established our nation. Until the American electorate can claim wisdom & a love for the truth, the real truth that is very narrow & very rigid, we are doomed to be mislead by politicians who are concerned with keeping enough makeup on hand to make the goats presentable.

  72. I am not surprised that Obama has not taken action in this important area. With others mouthing concern for needed change even from the far right, I would think he might be concerned his involvement could scare them off. The Republicans have shown themselves liable to oppose even their own ideas if/when Obama act to endorse them.

  73. I'm with you, but let's not forget the Fair Sentencing Act 2010!

  74. There is no doubt in my mind that the severe punishments for drug use should be tempered (I'm a non-user). However, the punishments for crimes against people should be increased. No mugger, rapist, or murderer should be should be shown any mercy. No excuses for poverty, neglect, or genetics should ever be accepted. The damage to the victim is just as severe, no matter what the perpetrator claims as an excuse.

  75. Congratulations on new job; your NYT voice will be missed.
    On prisons, another issue: college education for inmates.
    Gov. Cuomo has just called for an expansion of prison education programs like the innovative and effective Bard Prison Initiative....President Obama could be working to re-establish Pell grants for inmates and multiple the number of them taking a main road to a more productive life for them and society when they get out...which most will do.

  76. As Mr. Keller works to reform the criminal justice system, one force he will have to deal with is the public employee unions representing prison guards. They have a vested interest in high rates of incarceration and will oppose the elimination of "three-strikes" and similar laws.

  77. What difference does one more lie make to the Master Liar? Now the left wing elitist liberals are feeling his arrogance. Of coarse they didn't care much when millions of solid citizens lost their healthcare coverage even though he promised them that if they liked their healthcare and doctor they could keep them. Well boo-hoo! How does it feel?

  78. I do think the Marshall Project is a noble, needed endeavor, however, Mr Keller I do have my doubts about your participation in it. Despite all the complimentary comments written here, foremost in my mind is your unreflecting and vigorous support of the invasion of Iraq. Mistakes can and should be forgiven, but this one with its terrible consequences, I find, too egregious for you to be considered for this position.

  79. As always, Obama is waiting to see which way the wind is blowing so he can "evolve" in that direction. And, Eric Holder as a fair-minded champion? Good luck with that one.

  80. Incarceration as you said is the default for generations of inner city poor, but the real problem is single family households. These households living on government subsidies granted to them by the liberal establishment banished the husbands as the price for a steady paycheck. Get rid of most of the subsidies and reestablish two family headed households were fathers are respected and held accountable to their community. Don't banish non violent criminals to the jails.

  81. So I assume you are in favor of increasing the minimum wage so poor families can make closer to a living wage and stop relying on subsidies? And you are an advocate of ending "stop and frisk" police policies that disproportionately target minorities? And ending sentences that are disproportionately severe for minority offenders? And you are an advocate of spending tax dollars to educate people while they are incarcerated and provide job training and "reentry" assistance when they're released?

  82. Can President Obama Fix The U.S Prison Crisis?

    "With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population – that makes us the world’s largest jailer."

    "Since 1970, our prison population has risen 700%."

    "One in 99 adults are living behind bars in the U.S. This marks the highest rate of imprisonment in American history."

    "One in 31 adults are under some form of correctional control, counting prison, jail, parole and probation populations."

    "In America, our criminal justice system should keep communities safe and treat people fairly, regardless of the color of their skin or the size of their bank account. in order for our system to do a good job, it must be cost-effective by using our taxpayer dollars and public resources wisely, in an evidence-based rather than fear-based manner."

    "But our criminal justice system is not doing a good job. It has failed on every count: public safety, fairness and cost-effectiveness." It's not locking people up for rehab purpose, but for corporation profits.

    If President's Obama reforms the prison system, will GOP or private prison corporations call him a socialist or a dictator?

  83. It's good that you're writing this to prod Obama into more attention and action, kudos to you for using your influence to do that. But remember that if it was any republican in office, the only movement would be toward more prisons, stiffer sentences, tougher laws. In some quarters, they would be emboldened to suggest more death sentences, and in a few, they would want to add homosexuals to them. And we all know this is true. It could be worse, and it will be if we let them take control.

  84. Can President Obama Fix The U.S Prison Crisis?

    "With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population – that makes us the world’s largest jailer."

    "Since 1970, our prison population has risen 700%."

    "One in 99 adults are living behind bars in the U.S. This marks the highest rate of imprisonment in American history."

    "One in 31 adults are under some form of correctional control, counting prison, jail, parole and probation populations."

    "In America, our criminal justice system should keep communities safe and treat people fairly, regardless of the color of their skin or the size of their bank account. in order for our system to do a good job, it must be cost-effective by using our taxpayer dollars and public resources wisely, in an evidence-based rather than fear-based manner."

    "But our criminal justice system is not doing a good job. It has failed on every count: public safety, fairness and cost-effectiveness." It's not locking people up for rehab purpose, but for corporation profits.

    If President's Obama reforms the prison system, will GOP or private prison corporations call him a socialist or a dictator?

    https://www.aclu.org/safe-communities-fair-sentences/prison-crisis

  85. Since all of his focus during his term has been to help illegal immigrants rather than Americans in need, I doubt anything of significance will come from this. He sure knows how to talk things up, but act on them? He should have been fighting to address issues like these a long time ago. But, the only ones that have benefited from him so far have been big business and his fight for the rights of millions that crossed the border illegally. I voted for him. But I have no faith in him, certainly no hope for change. The Democrats are no different than the Republicans. They do what Big Money wants them to do. And they don't want them to do anything that will better the lives of the average American, especially African-American.

  86. I agree with Mr. Keller, as a parent of an only child who is incarcerated in the U.S. Federal prison system. I have witnessed very little done in this administration to change the current justice system. I supported President Obama's administration with the hopes that he would make much needed repairs to our broken criminal justice system. What I have witness to date is a lack of concern about what the majority of young African American and Hispanic men face and what devastation the families of these young men are left alone to endure.
    The War on Drugs has done nothing more than punish low level criminals and has allowed the real power behind the manufacturing and distribution of illegal substances to remain free. Allowing them to continue with their business as usual. Mandatory Sentencing has unjustly punished them by sentencing them to outrageous lengths of incarceration time, using this one size fits all strategy is abusive and unfair. Many inmates would like to make changes in their lives after release, but how do they accomplish this when they are unable to gain employment, finance an education, vote, or even seek help from government assistance to feed their families because of felony records. Feeling powerless and hopeless leads them to repeat their previous actions. The current system is in fact a revolving door designed for repetition. The U.S. Prison System is nothing more than an Industrial Complex that thrives on Human Suffering.

  87. Well! Mr. Keller, as they say in the theater - "Break a leg!"
    What you are going to do will fill a clearly unmet need here
    in the US.
    Here is a suggestion for a direction within your efforts: follow Raj Chetty. Mr. Chetty and his colleagues at Harvard looking at demographics on upward mobility in the US assembled very precise maps, showing where opportunity and mobility is, and isn't working here. These demonstrate clearly the almost precise correspondence between Republican areas of political control and social Immobility.

    I am willing to bet that a similar effort directed toward exposing areas in the US where incarceration rather than re-education in the prison system prevails will lead to an almost exact copy of the Chetty study - that is, that it is most prevalent in the red states. I believe it will show further that the redder the states, the more simplistic are the punishment systems in place.
    Then perhaps we can get down to the most important work facing us here - the exposure of the Republican party for what it is: a propaganda machine for the rich, and for a totally outdated set of values that are limiting our growth as a society and constraining true justice in America. And the outright rejection of the party, its values, and the rich bigots supporting it.

  88. Yes this is clearly what we need.More criminals on the streets instead of behind bars.These people made the choice to break the law.They put themselves behind bars.

  89. I think Obama's enunciated goals during his campaign were largely sideswiped by the great recession and threatened global monetary meltdown as he entered office. Remember, he still had two wars to deal with. Then the fallout from the resulting deficit and the rise of the Tea Party which paralyzed congress prevented much further action on many fronts.
    Liberals need to see the limits of what a president can deal with, even one sympathetic with their goals.

  90. We're going to miss you Bill.

  91. As so often, a great column from Mr.Keller. Although it is sad that such a voice leaves the Times, the Marshall venture seems to be a nice and much-needed project. Happy trails!

  92. "Big talk, no action". The unfortunate slogan of the Barack Obama presidency.

  93. Alas, opposition to prison reform is made of a rowdy arithmetic. Good luck cleaning up the bad side of town!

  94. Sorry - As for President Obama's belief that smoking pot is less dangerous than drinking alcohol I would recommend that he go to Nat Geo and watch the episode of the television series Drugs, Inc. that focuses on his hometown, Chicago.

    The aspect of the program which deals with the increased availability & use of a new variety of marijuana which is distinguished by it's concentrated THC levels - kush, I believe is the street name - and it's frequently used along with some form of ecstasy.

    According to this program the use and abuse of this supercharged pot is approaching epidemic levels in inner city Chicago. I'm not philosophically opposed to the decriminalization of marijuana, but watching the Nat Geo documentary definitely made me question some of my own preconceptions.

    The fact that the president would make that statement while there is such a huge problem with this in his hometown, Nat Geo going so far as to interview drug dealers within blocks of his family home - I guess I would just have to say - I'm disappointed.

  95. President Obama is doing his part to counteract the systemic drug problems (along with economic, healthcare, and foreign conflicts) in the country and the world. It's time to stop being disappointed and do our part.

  96. Godspeed to Mr. Keller in his next endeavor, it will provide a worthy outlet for his ample writing, thinking, and advocacy gifts.

    As for Mr. Obama's prison reform outlook, it is evidenced in the following: "last year Obama commuted the sentences of eight drug offenders." How disappointing.

    A more courageous approach would have shown real empathy for the many souls caught in our racist, wealthist, & surrealistic system, and identified hundreds, if not thousands, whose incarceration is a stain on our conscience.

    But only now that the public tide is turning, and even Republicans are voicing concern, is Mr. Obama acting.

    This is most similar to Democrats finally championing an increased minimum wage.

    Indeed, this approach has been a hallmark of Mr. Obama's tenure: he kept our economy from tanking and bailed out Wall Street (but hardly the poor); he passed an ACA that might have been called "Romneycare;" he is seeking a modest minimum wage increase; his antitrust posture is tepid (think: Comcast); on foreign policy/drone strikes, he has been a hawk; and now, he will finally pursue prison reform.

    Hannah Arendt said that the political virtue par excellence is restraint. This may well explain Mr. Obama's actions, as Mr. Keller generously notes.

    Or, it may be that progressives thought we would get a champion in candidate Obama, only to end up with GOP-lite in office.

    Prison reform frames this core question squarely, and is a fine segue to Mr. Keller's next pursuit.

    @ricfouad

  97. Bill, your voice will be missed from the pages of the NY Times and sought as many of us follow you to your new venture. This column is a great farewell and a great beginning for your efforts to encourage us all to bring needed repairs to the criminal justice system. Good luck.

  98. Yes, the criminal justice system is broken and badly needs fixing. Yes, you have now adopted this as your personal crusade. But I find it a really cheap shot to launch yourself by lambasting the president and blaming lack of progress for your new personal passion (and job) on him. But as always, if the president doesn't make one's primary interest his "top priority" then it's all his fault for lack of action.

  99. Stand-up to the convicted felon lobby (i.e., Obama, Holder and the Democrat party/the entire White House/Washington/New York/American press corps) and ban all voting by all convicted felons. FOREVER!

  100. The NYTs is still either wilfully ignorant or such a leftist cheerleader for Obama that it has taken them 6 years to come to the conclusion that Obama is a major league fraud. He is the ultimate political chameleon.

    And the ironic part is that he doesn't even hide his lies, because he knows he will always get a free pass with the media.

  101. Ever heard of,Weapons of mass destruction and if we don't invade a country that was no threat to us,we will all go up in a mushroom cloud?Now there was a lie that caused quite a bit of distruction.

  102. Nannie: Let me see if I follow your reasoning: If a president of one party did a lousy job, we should withhold valid criticisms of a president of the other party. Did I get it right?

  103. I saw an interesting clip on The Chris Hayes show the other night. Two guys, one black, one white each pretended to be trying to break into a locked car. The white guy tried for a very long time. The car's horn was beeping as he tried to push down the window. People walked by without giving him a second look. It was then the black guy's turn. You could see people around react to him with fear and within two minute the cops were on the scene, he was handcuffed, etc.

    Says a lot about this country, doesn't it? Good luck to you Mr. Keller. You are certainly going to be putting your talents to an area that America needs to pay great attention to and now - true justice.

  104. Exactly how is our criminal justice system broken? If someone chooses to commit a crime, they may get arrested and convicted by a jury of their peers.

  105. Good for you. It must be nice not to be troubled by any issues that don't effect you directly.

  106. In a country where last year over 40,000 new laws were passed, many of them criminal, we are no where near even beginning to reduce our absurd prison levels. Our solution to everything seems to be "we need a law" and camera hungry legislators are ever hungry to name a bill after a victim of something to propose yet more penalties on things that are generally already illegal to begin with, thus firing up prosecutors to charge a defendant with multiple crimes, garnering a plea to a few and filling another cell.

    We need to start by significantly paring down both federal and state criminal statutes back to a more sensible level. How many variations of murder or assault, for example, do you really need? The bureaucratic bloat has resulted in too many variations aimed at appeasing the public opinion of the moment and not at a comprehensive scheme. This affects everyone in the system at huge to cost to us all.

  107. Too little, too late. It's the Judges and the system that elects and appoints them which is controlled by law enforcement and prosecutors offices. If you don't play the game, they take away your robes.

  108. Superb insights. I am in awe and moved. Thank you for deeply caring. I sense great things are ahead with The Marshall Project. And, with other posters writing accolades -- I would add that we all "own" this issue. The broken criminal justice system, the prison system, sentencing, conditions that incarcerate our young people and minorities, the lack of resources in disadvantaged communities, and so on. We all are involved in some way - even if these problems seem remote. As a society, as people in community, as individuals, we need to invest in what works and what heals.

  109. Bill, the NYT is poorer for your leaving, but the benefit to our country will be great. We desperately need a new paradigm for punishment and rehabilitation. I eagerly await the Marshall Project.

  110. Who is to say that those released wont go right back into the same acts that put them there in the first place.I believe that the number one issue for this President and the useless congress should be jobs for the idle.

  111. Bill,

    Great, compelling and fact-based post which I enjoyed reading for the love and passion it exuded.

    I am hopeful as you are that President Obama's remaining 3 years will stand highly in history as a decent human being who's first believed profoundly in bipartisanship before realizing GOP wickedness was authentic and non negotiable.

    I had been at pains in the last 5 years for President Obama's isolation and bashing by Rep who's not hidden their deep contempt for a man who's shown unwavering love for his country and true understanding for his self-declared enemies.

    I commend President Obama for showing world leaders a different approach to leadership, even if it meant political stall at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve.

    However, as you rightly and elegantly concluded your post, we are all impatient to see the President overuse its executive powers and serve history with the most productive second term since George Washington.

    http://ericfmyblog.blogspot.it/

  112. Eric, we must have read different articles. The one I read hardly "exuded" "love and passion" for Obama. Also, while you may be "impatient to see the President overuse its executive powers [sic]...," It's far from true to say ..."we are all..." of that mindset.

  113. Given that the path of the downward spiral has become more accelerated in, among other places, political leadership, the general population, job creation, the middle-class, and soon, likely, the military, it is reasonable to assume that there will become a driving force (what we used to call a will and a way) to reduce the prison population as well. The eventual results of this overall downsizing, are by the nature of things unknown, inestimable as to the extent of their value. Kind of like having community leaders in the White House, a place better served in our society, perhaps, by power brokers. Best wishes making a big splash when you dive off "the glorious platform." A double gainer, indeed.

  114. This is far from being a solely federal problem and Mr. Keller should have looked at some governors.

    According to the Albany Times-Union, as of Dec. 24, 2013 - after nearly three years in office, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had "given no commutations in which prisoners are released or pardons in which convictions are nullified."

    I've no doubt that the state's prisons are filled with those incarcerated during the crack epidemic. And, Michelle Alexander is right. Sentences for crack-related offenses are much longer than those for cocaine, the latter more associated with the black community, the latter for the white.

  115. Well heck he did extend the Bush tax cuts.
    The man was busy. Cut him some slack. Goldman Sachs thanks us very much for electing him.

    Actually they don't thank us. Not at all. We are not worthy

  116. I voted for Mr. Obama, twice, mainly because I am lifelong Democrat, but, more importantly, he was the lesser of two evils, no great criterion for the presidency! Mr Obama, has to me been a shadow president, no one knows where he is, and what his position's are. This became more evident since I read Robert Gates's book "Duty". Has it ever been determined, what exactly a "community organizer" does. To me it sounds like a position for an overqualified academic, that does not want to get his hands dirty. It comes as no surprise, to me, anyway, that like so many of Mr. Obamas lofty conceptions, judicial reform, is simply smoke and mirrors. "Don't do the crime, if you can't do the time" while a slang expression is in reality true. It is being replaced with, do the crime, because nothing will happen anyway. I wish Mr. Keller, good fortune, as he takes up the cause of the misunderstood criminal. I would like to ask him two questions, has he, or any member of his family, ever been the victim of a crime of a personal nature, and, what about victims right's?

    Tom Franzson. Breviard. NC

  117. One must start with the premise that there is in fact a victim whose rights have been violated; then punishment relative to the seriousness of the crime committed is warranted.

    Mr. Franzson ignores the fact that a significant portion of those incarcerated are there for crimes without any victim. Violating an unconstitutional law, such as possession of a plant, is not a crime but an example of civil disobedience in exercising ones inalienable right to individual liberty.

    Unconstitutional laws and their racist enforcement are blatant crimes by the state with countless victims, whose perpetrators are never brought to justice.

  118. Good idea, worthy cause, best of luck! I think that primary and crucial is to take the profit motive out of the prison system. Are there any political candidates running on this challenging platform and related ones? It is unpalatable and unacceptable to me that tax dollars are being spent on the incarceration of people for possession of marijuana, a measure that probably accomplishes nothing other than to further and better criminalize them. Foremost goal should be to take corruption out of the system.

  119. Obama has made very clear his commitment to the unfairness of American justice through his little used powers of clemency/commutation. Perhaps that lack of interest may also reflect an earlier lack of true interest as a community organizer using it only as a step to politics

  120. What is arguably the most important criminal justice reform finally beginning to pick up steam across the country comes ironically, not from either the federal or the state governments but instead by a group of people who saw injustice & committed to doing something about it.

    Project Innocence (and other organizations dedicated to the same principles) has doggedly pursued what should be but often isn't a basic right of those convicted of a crime - the right to be exonerated as a result of DNA testing that wasn't technologically possible at the time they were convicted. There is also a growing body of evidence supporting the phenomenon of false confessions coming from particular individuals and under certain circumstances. It should sear the conscience of all of us that there are people sitting in a jail cell, many of whom are minorities and some of whom, at least, are on Death Row.

    Texas, and Dallas specifically, have been open to Project Innocence and has led the nation in these long overdue exonerations. One recent case of prosecutorial misconduct uncovered during the process resulted in a criminal conviction for the prosecutor.

    All the other reforms are important, of course, but they ring a bit hollow if we ignore this.

    .

  121. Our President elect is like all others since Eisenhower in that they are puppets of the Military-Industrial Complex. Start a war to create jobs that feed the system. The last several promises pandered to another unpopular military incursion into another quagmire. Our efforts to extricate our troops are met with pleas from residents to stay to stabilize the area. In true western style these Middle Eastern people who will not work but live on social services need us to keep their peace.

    Da Prez made more promises than he could possible keep and this is evidenced bu the lack of progress on any home land projects. Except the lies that entangle the Affordable Healthcare Act to now one in the Government has read yet passed without incident. Now we have burgeoning insurance costs and lower overall coverage. Bring on the death panels.

    The reality is that not one of our recently elected officials has done anything but hand themselves more power and better retirement conditions at the cost of average Americans who continue to buy the lies and reelect the miscreants. American-Socialists should feel proud of their progress. Let's not forget the emerging power of Sharia Law... Thanks Prez!

  122. I had a step daughter once. When she was 16 she got a job at a mom and pop coffee/bagel store which she promptly robbed. Mom was horrified about her baby so she found her daughter a good lawyer and the daughter got probation. Then she stole a car. Three cars actually and she wen to kiddie prison for two years. Mom brought her all sorts of presents while she was in prison and complained about how prison was doing her daughter no good. Her daughter got out and within a month was arrested for writing $10,000 is stolen checks. Mom again defended her daughter. The courts then forced mom into a parenting program where they taught tough love.
    >
    The people teaching the tough love course had been teaching it for 20 years and they had seen it all. The problem is that people like mom tried to justify her daughter's behavior, tried to defend her daughter and so forth, but all she really did was to teach her daughter about how mom would defend her from consequences. Mom enabled her criminal behavior and the results were predictable.
    >
    Tough love is extremely difficult because it forces parents to face to lie that defending your child from consequence actually enables the child to misbehave. The best thing in the world is force people to face the consequences of their actions. Parents need to step up to the responsibility and this is where the problems lies. Attacking prisons with reforms will result in little. What needs to be addressed is the absence of parenting.

  123. We can reform the entire criminal justice, create endless jobs etc. but will never be able to eliminate the cycle of urban poverty until we recognize the responsibility of those who bring children into this world. By not holding them responsible for the upbringing ( with an emphasis on the father equally) we are continuing a plantation style approach adapted to 21st Century white progressive emotional needs (as well as the career needs of those self-appointed "leaders" of the African American community.the media loves to turn their cameras to for every new crisis)

    But this is simply too politically incorrect to ponder. So, the fantasy of 1960s era projects goes on.

    It's a shame. Too many voices in the African-American community who call for more self-reliance are lost in the din of our national dialogue.

  124. http://www.themarshallproject.org is already saved as a favorite in my browser. I'll be viewing.

    An introspective observation;

    When I am angry, I believe in the Death Penalty. When I am not angry, I don't believe in the use of the Death Penalty. That tells me the Death penalty is revenge, not justice. Is it cruel and unusual punishment? Of course, by design. The anticipation of ones death by the inmate certainly must be psychologically cruel.

  125. 'When I am angry, I believe in the Death Penalty. When I am not angry, I don't believe in the use of the Death Penalty. That tells me the Death penalty is revenge, not justice. '

    No, it tells me that that is how *you* think. You might as well say: when my life is going well, I don't believe in god. When it is going poorly and I need comfort, I pray to god. This tells me that whether god exists is a matter of whether I believe in him.

    Whether or not the death penalty is justice is not a matter of your subjective feelings. There are others - I am one of them - for whom the application of the death penalty has nothing to do with whether a particular crime makes us angry. It is a dispassionate question of: 1. Is the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; 2. Is the crime so heinous that society is justified in taking extreme measures to avoid a repeat offence; 3. can this criminal be rehabilitated to the point where he can be released with a reasonable supposition that he will not commit the same offence (note I didn't say 'not commit any offence' but the heinous one for which he was convicted); 4. If the answers to 1-3 are respectively yes, yes, and no, then what is to be done with such a person?

  126. Like the death of the innocent victim's family?

  127. Bill K. shares with many of his fellow citizens the idea that Obama is a liberal politician. In some respects, of course, he is, but only in the context of US politics. Seen against a backdrop of what passes for liberal in Canada or the UK, Obama is at best a centrist in the political spectrum, but more accurately somewhat to the right of centre. That is, he's less liberal than many of his supporters want him to be. Second, there's no way he cannot be mindful of the fact that he is treading a path that other non-caucasian politicans may travel in the future. He, for the sake of his own legacy, and for their sake, cannot risk bring labeled as not just liberal but libertarian in limiting, or abrogating wholus bolus, legally imposed sentences on law breakers. That would almost certainly guarantee a stereotyping of every non-caucasian politician who aspires to the highest office in the land.

  128. It's not just petty drug crimes but petty crimes that become 3 strikes such as stealing some commodity that supports a drug/alcohol habit (same thing). The vicious cycle of incarceration and blame puts so many of our citizens outside of the American Dream and keeps them there. Diversion works; not always and not necessarily, but it does if there's a realistic way out of the cycle. I know personally but I'm white.

  129. Let me begin by saying thanks to you.

    And let me provide some context and understanding for the failure of POTUS Obama and USAG Holder to focus on this issue and make substantial change.

    As always in America race and color continue to poison any issue. Almost half- 1 million- of the 2.3 million Americans in prison are black. Mostly poor non-violent drug offenders. As Michelle Alexander has written in "The New Jim Crow" illegal drug use is equal among blacks and whites.

    Illegal drug and violent crimes in particular and crime in general have a false black face.

    Even though for decades more than twice as many whites are arrested each year for all crimes as compared to blacks and for each specific crime except robbery and gambling. Arrests are not convictions but they are not random events. They begin the prosecution process. Whites get a pass. Blacks are persecuted. FBI Uniform Crime Reports.

    Most crimes are committed within the same socioeconomic ethnic racial group. About 30,000 Americans die each year from gun shot and 20,000 are suicides. The remainder mainly involve family, friends and thugs.

    POTUS Obama was lucky to have used illegal drugs in Hawaii being raised by his white family. But his color works against him because of beliefs about drugs and crime.

    Being mild mannered with a bland smile is the price to be paid for being black POTUS. In 2008, 57% and 2012, 59% of white voters wanted the other guys. He can not openly deal with drugs due to race.

  130. Best of luck with your new project! Maybe you can persuade the NYT to feature links to reports as part of its op-ed guest writer series, e.g. some sort of "best of the Web" feature.

    There can be no doubt that the incarceration system, at all levels of government, is the replacement for segregation, with the added "advantage" that there is a "non-racial" excuse for accomplishing the same ends ... AND with the connivance of a subset of African Americans thrown in. First qualification for your new journos: watch "The Wire" from start to finish, at least twice.

    Mass incarceration isn't just about the phony "war on drugs." It's also about the despair of life in The Projects, about the temporary relief offered by opiates, and about the visible business opportunities for some people from the projects to "make a killing" and get into the world of "legitimate" business ... or not, as the case may be.

    And it's about a police state that begins with arbitrary enforcement by cops at the lowest, most trivial level--traffic courts--where "prosecutors" can offer plea bargains that result in revenues for the smallest local township, and a "driving record" whose real cost is future insurance rates. All this carried out with the trappings of legitimacy (local lawyer comes to parttime job in a black robe, pretending to be a judge instead of an after-hours buddy of the "prosecutor" both of whom are on first-name terms with the local cops).

  131. Although heaven knows there's no shortage of legitimate criticisms to make of our justice system, I respectfully suggest that anyone who calls this a 'police state' should experience a real one. Hysterical hyperbole undermines your argument.

  132. It's important, I think to focus at the state level for criminal just reform. The conservative PACS have had much success working at this level, possibly because state level government, overall, gets less scrutiny in the press and by the public than the local or national levels.

    A recent New York Times article by Benjamin Weiser addressed the State of New York's efforts to curtail the use of solitary confinement and to prohibit using this form of punishment for those 18 and under. Successful reform in one state can lead to the same in others, or become a model for Congressional legislation.

    I wish you all the best in your efforts with the Marshall Project, which promises much needed change at all levels of government. That said, I shall miss your columns in The Times.

  133. Thanks for your work at the NYT, Mr. Keller.
    Your piece should have included a short paragraph on the pernicious effects of private prisons. Would Wackenhut be donating money to this or that pol to maintain the criminal justice status quo? Would the setting sun bring on the night? The cost to sleepy tax payers is made doubly intolerable knowing that the money spent housing nonviolent offenders would easily provide them with full scholarships to community colleges if not four year schools while generating jobs for teachers rather than human zoo keepers. What a culture. Viva capitalism!

  134. "Ban the box" is a good start, but we need to allow ex-cons to get good jobs. Just because someone broke the law 20 years ago should not mean he/she should be ostracized for life. There's staggering corruption in public office, not to mention in public itself. Who are we to judge?

  135. @grannyrn: You are of course right that President Obama has suffered from vicious personal attacks during his time in office. But the notion that he should leave office and take solace in the bosom of his family? (He will leave office, at the end of this term, but that is beside the point.) No, he should stay and, while serving the best interests of America, fight his own fight so that the second Black president, or the first woman president, or whatever pioneer we have, will not have to face such despicable treatment.If there were no term limits, he should run again, and again, and destroy his enermies (primarily, the Republicans).

  136. Your new project is exactly what has been lacking: consistent, widespread, in-depth coverage of the criminal justice system in all its aspects, including those with a financial stake in keeping things just as they are: the lawyers, the clerks - please don't forget them and their way of life - in fact, please send a reporter to cover the various departments in the NYC courthouses, sort of undercover, as an ordinary citizen trying to get information or file documents - court officers, judges - they are all hugely uninterested in changing anything - unless it lessens their workload. Computers, online filing? The backloads are worse than ever. I think Obama realized a version of this problem when he worked as a community organizer, saw that people weren't equally motivated, and how easy it was to just get nowhere, hard as he tried.

    It seems as if because working class jobs have disappeared, the solution has been to throw people in jail to compensate. Now we are forced to make jobs, and that will lead to the very problems - such as the clerks with little real oversight or motivation to do a day's work - that occur with too much safety, too much "given." But, there is no alternative; the alternative we have chosen is an abomination.

  137. Thank you for this summation. We cannot return to this topic too often, but we must begin to arrive with new solutions.

    The beginning of a solution lies not with the President, the Attorney General or public corrections policy, but with the business sector that routinely and systematically denies employment opportunities to otherwise-qualified men and women with criminal records. Whether due to anxieties about liability, concerns about public Image, or simple distrust, it is the closed door to gainful employment and lawful self-sufficiency that perpetuates the cycle of hopelessness that pervades the former-offender population.

    Business engagement in the roles of strategists, problem-solvers, and advocates will do more to resolve this problem than all the public policy initiatives we can dream of. I eagerly await the emergence of the first corporate CEO to take a leadership role on this issue. Then we will begin to get somewhere.

  138. Obama, as the first black president had an historic opportunity to speak out forcefully and repeatedly about the extremely damaging pathologies that afflict black America and in this he has utterly failed his people. He has done nothing to improve the lot of the most vulnerable and instead has merely mouthed words of compassion with no action to put the words into practice. In this he has carried on his practice of decades of not actually being engaged but just being a , somehow, detached observer of the human condition and one with a slight sneer at the perfidy of the common man.
    Obama is merely the last in a long line of inhabitants of the oval office that remain creatures of the rich and famous. There is no way he would ever deign to sully his hands with the problems that confront people in their real lives. One need look no further than his arrogant unconcern about the actual mechanics of implementing Obamacare and his reaction when his incompetence became incontrovertible to see how little concern he has to actually make peoples lives better.
    Mr Keller ends his career as he started it: as an unrepentant apologist for all things left. He is as clueless of reality as Obama is of the plight of poor citizens.

  139. Steve Frankuchen:

    "....punish people, prevent them from..other crimes, ..deter others, ..rehabilitate,..extract vengeance,..assuage..victims..."

    Other than extract vengeance all that you mention encompasses criminal justice. Vengeance, as we know has been quoted, belongs to another entity or realm. We are and should be doing everything you name.

  140. Bravo! Mr. Keller! We will miss you, but realize this is an important project> Best of luck!

  141. Congratulations on your new venture, Mr. Keller. My admiration for you only increases....

  142. You will be greatly missed on these "pages",
    glad you are leaving for a good cause.

  143. I'm selfish. While I wish you much success with the Marshall Project, I cannot bring myself to say I'm happy for you. You are a HUGE loss to The Times and I will personally sorely miss you. I do hope that we may still occasionally hear from you via this venue.

    Thank you so much for your many years at The Times.

  144. You'll be missed, Mr. Keller. All best on the new project!

  145. Dear Mr. Keller: I wish you success and godspeed in your new venture. But the very idea that you have even a shred of faith in Eric Holder to be of use to your admirable aims is hopelessly naïve. From the pages in which your work appears, there is this: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/19/officials-renew-call-for-u-...
    Eric Adams, a State Senator and former NYPD captain, who happens to be a man of color, in 2011 put in a request to Mr. Holder, another native New Yorker of color, to examine the NYPD stop and frisk policy. As shown in the blog post, Adams received no reply from Holder.
    Even as recently as last June, the Justice Department, led by Holder, endorsed a monitor for the NYPD stop and frisk program, but only if found unconstitutional, as Judge Scheindlin did, in fact, find. But, given the opportunity, why did Mr. Holder fail to file an amicus brief in opposition to the practice? (link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/13/nyregion/us-offers-conditional-support... I am a graduate of the same specialized NYC High School as Holder. He and I attended well before, as you quoted a Bloomberg advisor in your assessment of "The Bloomberg Legacy" “1.6 million people live on Manhattan. The rest live elsewhere. And we’ve made elsewhere more attractive.” Holder commuted from Queens and I from Staten Island. We who come from "elsewhere" don't fall for weak lip service. You shouldn't either.

  146. Excellent column. Congratulations on your career move.
    Bill Sweet

  147. We have a massive prison/military/surveillance industrial complex because there is a deeply embedded human instinct to see "threats" around every corner (get that saber-toothed tiger before it gets you!) and to react to that threat by either isolating it, annihilating it or giving it a good, fear-inducing thrashing.

    The only effective way to re-direct energy and capital away from the brutality which is our criminal justice system threats is (i) for enough people to be, or to know and care about someone who has been, caught up in that system (i.e., by empowering the empathy instinct) and/or (ii) for enough people to be frightened into understanding that their tax dollars are being wasted in maintaining a system which actually reduces rather than increases that all-important personal safety (i.e., by re-directing the fear instinct).

    However, if feelings of "threat" from crime are immediate and powerful enough (i.e., the fear instinct is over-powering), then neither of the foregoing will make a difference.

    In other words, it's likely that we'll never convince people, based on reason alone, that beating people up and forever marginalizing them as we now do ends up being Self-destructive. Nope, those neuro-chemical survival secretions which make us FEEL so righteous and safe when we wreak vengeance on those who've wreaked their own kind of vengeance for their own reason on others is just too powerful. Reason is likely to forever remain the pet-poodle to those instincts.

  148. It is clear, and has been from the start,that Barack Obama's priority id Barack Obama. When he benefits personally from an expanded program of clemency then he will make it happen.

  149. Great article. But here's where it fall short:

    This issue is not about what Obama did. It's about what Democrats do or don't do. And it's about what Republicans do or don't do.

    Obama is now a complete lame-duck, so it's ok to blame him for everything. And believe me, I do.

    But don't focus on personalities. Look at the bigger picture.

    Focus on what they do, not what they say. The more one does that, the more one sees that we don't really have a two party system. They are both the same. There is NO DIFFERENCE.

  150. It's a shame because John McCain has served our country well however any more his words are irrelevant. His age and possibility of dementia should be taken into consideration.

  151. It is certainly easy to hold the President's lack of action or support for the sort of criminal justice reform we need against him. But is it possible withholding that support is intended to advance the cause? Given the knee-jerk reaction of Republicans and conservatives to oppose anything the President supports - see market-based health care reforms, among many other things - perhaps his lack of open advocacy is calculated to let those on the other side continue their support. It is a profoundly cynical thought, but it does seem to be an appropriate strategy for the times we live in and for this President in particular.

  152. As with most issues, President Obama may talk the talk, but he almost never follows that up by walking the walk.

    I'm also skeptical that imprisonments have declined if you count all places of imprisonment. And I'm sure that is not the case when you include the various "detention centers" used for immigration.

    Consider that Obama as both President and Commander-in-Chief has not been willing to close the cancer known as Guantanomo.

  153. Mr. Keller,
    Please excuse me for not addressing today's column but instead simply wishing you well in your endeavors. I will miss your thoughtful, generally cogent, always interesting analyses, especially come Monday mornings. I wrote you long ago that at least the Times had made good its loss of Frank Rich by giving you a regular op-ed column. Your columns have numbered among my Monday-morning highlights for quite a while now (along with Paul Krugman's and David Carr's). Thank you. I will miss reading yours and if numbers count, I imagine that thousands of other readers will, too. Good luck. I will try to follow you in your new format. Cheerio, and ciao, Tom Claire

  154. Are you still expecting anything from this President? He is incompetent. Hasn't he shown that he does not have the chops for the job? And even if he did, what would you have him do? Would you have him end the cycle of dependency and fatherless children? In order to do that he would have to dismantle the poverty programs that have brought such a sad time to black americans. But the Democratic party has used that to secure a firm base. So that will never change. At least not while there is a Democrat in the WH.

    "...that the suffering of victims and the debasing of offenders were often two sides of the same coin."

    Really, tell that to the victims.

  155. 2004, in Wisconsin, deputized as a deputy county registrar for voter registration, I was sent one evening to a community center to register about 15 former felons who'd recently qualified to vote. When done, the warm handshakes and outpouring of gratitude was stunning. Genuine re-integration into society is a real and emotionally powerful factor in their future habits.

    Canadian and European press reveals they have the same range of crime as the U.S. but their prison sentences, for non-murder crimes, appear tailored to getting the person's attention, and then rehabilitation through longer term (real) supervision (parole) and integration back into society. Our system seems focused on revenge and personal ruin

    The NY Times ran two editorials related to the P. Riot struggle against Russia's social injustices. They risk severe consequences standing up to Putin consolidating power behind muscular Russian nationalism. How readily the NY Times voice was mocked, because our prison situation severely undermines U.S. moral authority in the world, was revealed in comments.

    Five percent of the world's population with 25 percent of the world's prison population? Our democracy is the bedrock of Freedom? Freedom for whom? African-Americans make up about 13% of the population but make up about 40% of the U.S. prison population. 12% of white American children live in poverty. 45% of black American children live in poverty.

    Our character is revealed in how we treat all our citizens.

  156. Fair setensing as a part of criminal justice reform should be preceded by fair investigation of charges, free legal assistance to the defendant, prison sentence as the last option to be supplemented by simultaneous attempts at reform, rehabilitation and job opportunity with no social stigma for the prison serving persons- often the victims of unjust social order.

  157. Yeah - that 3 strikes and you're out idea was pretty stupid! Not to mention mandatory decade long sentences for the rest. Prisons are the breeding pit of all things vile. Not to mention the financial rape of honest folk taxed to pay for their upkeep.

  158. The two Bushes, Reagan, and Clinton housed the mentally ill in prisons, not hospitals. Why? Presumably because hospitals are too expensive. Now we know that prisons cost about the same in money as hospitals.
    That policy was brainless and heartless. Is Obama going to step up or just continue the brainless and heartlessness of the previous administrations?

  159. Where are their families?

  160. bandersen, some of them don't have any families left. With regard to the ones who do, I wonder if you understand what it is like to live with a mentally ill person, even one who is not criminal. I do. I remember very few days of my life (I'm 58) that were not pulled askew to revolve around the whims, needs, delusions and tantrums of a crazy woman. No crime involved, just mental illness. I'm 'the normal one' which is a silly term, considering that in a household with a mentally ill person no one is normal. There have been many times I've considered either suicide or murder, not caring much which, just to get away from it. No one else will take her. Will you?

  161. bandersen, anyone who's had any experience with mentally ill individuals will tell you they quickly overwhelm the emotional (and financial) resources of even the most diligent and involved families.

  162. "[s]omething new: a nonprofit journalistic venture called The Marshall Project..."

    Something new. What's so new about a cadre of elites, gathering under the "nonprofit" umbrella, soaking up donations and collecting product and service fees. Of course to be successful, you'll have to reserve hotel rooms, hand out prepaid VISA gift cards, pay for 1st class air fare for visiting 'scholars' and, well, do whatever it takes to ensure the IRS is kept at arm's length. Let me guess: You Googled "Marshall Project", every which way from Sunday, and got no hits on anything remotely related to gun rights or tea party. You'' be fine vis a vis tax situations.

  163. Without addressing myself to our system of injustice, I'd just like to point out that a good deal of the president's Community Organizer has undoubtedly been beaten out of him by the Teapublicans' unrelentingly vicious assaults.

  164. Don't hold your breath waiting for AG Holder to act ethically. Remember, he is the one who declared the Wall Street banksters "too big to jail." I wonder where he'll end up after his stint in government.

  165. Good for you, Mr. Keller, and thank you.
    The subject of crime and punishment and Obama is a delicate one. I agree it would have been naïve to assume that he would become the Criminal Justice Reform President, but no one could have predicted that he would become the Cover-up Commander in Chief. His response to a historic crime spree by government officials, intelligence and military operatives, and bank and non-bank financial institutions was to hold none of them accountable for their multiple crimes, thus incentivizing more criminality.
    Caging people for white collar crimes is actually an incredibly effective crime-fighting strategy. A former political leader being put in jail for torture or for using falsified evidence to justify the horrors of war is an act that fundamentally reverberates for decades. Likewise, throwing, say, Jamie Dimon in jail for one of JPMorgan's multiple and irrefutable crimes would have a chillingly deterrent effect on banking shenanigans.
    This administration and its Justice Department has worked deals, like the mortgage foreclosure fraud settlement is but one example, to cover up more crimes than any administration in American history.

  166. To be fair, the President has made up for his continued support of harsh sentencing policies for some by being extraordinarily lenient with the CIA officials who destroyed videotape evidence of torture and most recently of JPMorgan Chase officers.

  167. According to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, cited in this piece, the WAR ON DRUGS has worked exceedingly well...it has incarcerated and permanently damaged a disturbingly high percentage of African American young men, it has militarized our citizen police force through federal financial incentives and hardware, and it has shredded the fourth amendment which used to protect us from unreasonable search and seizure. All the while enriching local police forces by allowing them to keep the spoils of seizure of private property regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused. What other federal venture has succeeded so well?

  168. No one is forced to take illegal drugs

  169. Good luck, man, with your Thurgood Marshall project. I've enjoyed reading your stuff.

    While you're out there, do some thinking and get back to me on these:

    Why have so many people come to confuse the ends (result) of justice, ius titia, with what ought to be, in these contemporary, enlightened times, the very things justice is designed to avoid?

    When violence has been legislated against, so it is a crime, should not the object of justice be a settlement that precludes further, retributive violence? Stopping the cycle of violence is the way to end violence and should be the object of justice, not triumphal revenge or payback punishment.

    Individual victims/families attaining "closure" is no business of criminal justice! Getting society "shut" of all further risk of violence in that cycle is.

    Congested prisons, brutal punishment and disproportionate sentencing harden criminals into criminal "identities". So they often only retard, and amplify later violence. Non-violent incarcerated often learn and adopt, and learn to rationalise the adoption of, violence while in the "can". Does that serve justice?

    What of the shyster who rips people massively off, say financially, à la Madoff, but doesn't commit physical violence? Why should (s)he be locked up like a violent criminal? For vengeful punishment? The Roman Circus? To whose benefit? Wouldn't it be better to lock such into glass cages and punish them with close-monitored public service? They've got the brains...

  170. The only effective answer is to start over at the beginning. Get a good education and good social skills and you are unlikely to end up unemployed, in poverty or in prison and those factors are closely related. After-the-fact changes are notoriously ineffective. Someone who is functionally illiterate and unskilled is not going to get a good job even if their prison record is abolished or they can vote and they will never be able to earn anything near what they can make dealing, which leads to using or the other way around. That’s why many low-level drug dealers get into the business in the first place, they have nothing else they can do. Isn’t it about time we admit that our education and social systems - the domains of the liberal establishment - are just miserable failures? There are many unjust laws and, as others have pointed out, there are simply too many laws, period. However, the real problems are educational and economic. Those who believe they have no future do not worry much about their present.