U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. today introduced a new initiative designed to reform the criminal justice system for the 21st century, announced U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III.
“By targeting the most serious offenses, prosecuting the most dangerous criminals, directing assistance to crime ‘hot spots,’ and pursuing new ways to promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency, and fairness – we can become both smarter and tougher on crime,” said Attorney General Holder in remarks to the American Bar Association’s Annual Convention in San Francisco.
“Attorney General Holder’s ‘Smart on Crime’ initiative provides a measured approach to modernizing the criminal justice system and offers a sensible alternative to the one-size-fits-all policy proven to be flawed and ineffective,” said U.S. Attorney Stanton. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office, court personnel, and our law enforcement partners in the Western District of Tennessee have already been working to implement many of the principles outlined in the initiative, such as launching re-entry and drug courts and using diversion as a resource when warranted for non-violent offenders. This bold approach will allow federal prosecutors to not only be more efficient and effective at deterring crime and reducing recidivism, but also more consistent with our nation’s commitment to treating all Americans as equal under the law.”
“Smart on Crime” is a series of directives to U.S. Attorney Offices across the nation designed to redirect efforts and assets toward more measured, individualized examinations of both the crime and the criminal. The five guiding principles of “Smart on Crime” are:
I. PRIORITIZE PROSECUTIONS TO FOCUS ON THE MOST SERIOUS CASES.
Given scarce resources, federal law enforcement efforts should focus on the most serious cases that implicate clear, substantial federal interests. Currently, the Department’s priorities are:
1. Protecting Americans from national security threats
2. Protecting Americans from violent crime
3. Protecting Americans from financial fraud
4. Protecting the most vulnerable members of society
Based on these federal priorities, the Attorney General is, for the first time, requiring the development of district-specific guidelines for determining when federal prosecutions should be brought. This necessarily will mean focusing resources on fewer but the most significant cases, as opposed to fixating on the sheer volume of cases.
II. REFORM SENTENCING TO ELIMINATE UNFAIR DISPARITIES AND REDUCE OVERBURDENED PRISONS.
Prisons are over-capacity, and the rising cost of maintaining them imposes a heavy burden on taxpayers and communities. At the state level, costs for running corrections facilities have roughly tripled in the last three decades, making it the second-fastest rising expense after Medicaid. At the federal level, the Bureau of Prisons comprises one-third of the Justice Department’s budget.
This requires a top-to-bottom look at our system of incarceration. For many non-violent, low-level offenses, prison may not be the most sensible method of punishment. But even for those defendants who do require incarceration, it is important to ensure a sentence length commensurate with the crime committed. Our policies must also seek to eliminate unfair sentencing disparities.
III. PURSUE ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION FOR LOW-LEVEL, NON-VIOLENT CRIMES.
Incarceration is not the answer in every criminal case. Across the nation, no fewer than 17 states have shifted resources away from prison construction in favor of treatment and supervision as a better means of reducing recidivism.
Federal law enforcement should encourage this approach. In appropriate instances involving non-violent offenses, prosecutors ought to consider alternatives to incarceration, such as drug courts, specialty courts, or other diversion programs. Accordingly, the Department will issue a “best practices” memorandum to U.S. Attorney Offices encouraging more widespread adoption of these diversion policies when appropriate.
IV. IMPROVE REENTRY TO CURB REPEAT OFFENSES AND RE-VICTIMIZATION.
After prison, recidivism rates are high. A reduction in the recidivism rate of even one or two percentage points could create long-lasting benefits for formerly incarcerated individuals and their communities.
To lead these efforts on a local level, the U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Tennessee will designate a prevention and reentry coordinator to focus on prevention and reentry efforts. As part of this enhanced commitment, Assistant U.S. Attorneys will be newly encouraged to devote time to reentry issues in addition to casework.
V. ‘SURGE’ RESOURCES TO VIOLENCE PREVENTION AND PROTECTING MOST VULNERABLE POPULATIONS.
Even as crime levels have fallen, many of our communities in the Western District of Tennessee still suffer from alarming rates of homicides, shootings and aggravated assaults. Confronting this problem and its root causes with a holistic approach remains a priority for the Department of Justice. By exploring cost-effective reforms to our prison system, it will allow law enforcement to redirect scarce federal resources towards the priority of violence prevention.
Under a new memorandum issued by the Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Attorneys will update anti-violence strategies that are specific to their district. With multiple federal, state, and local agencies involved in the fight against violent crime, strong relationships and robust information sharing are critical to achieve common goals and to avoid the unnecessary duplication of competing resources and efforts.