Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote

In "More Punishment Means Less Crime" I argued -- with statistical support -- that making federal sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory, as the Supreme Court has done, will lead a resurgence of the violent-crime rate. I followed up with "More About Crime and Punishment," in which I cited a case in point, the sentencing of a rapist to 60 days in jail. Now we have this, from an exchange at Legal Affairs Debate Club between Douglas Berman and Frank O. Bowman III:
Berman: 1/16/06, 09:43 AM
Given the enormous and unexpected shocks to the federal sentencing system over the past three years—Congress' enactment of the PROTECT Act, then the Supreme Court's decision in Blakely v. Washington, and finally the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker—I am wary about making any predictions about what will be the future of federal sentencing. But I am happy to opine about what should be the future of federal sentencing: Congress should allow the advisory guideline system created by the Booker decision to continue to operate while the U.S. Sentencing Commission and others assess its efficacy and fairness. . . .

Bowman: 1/17/06, 09:01 AM
. . . A year has passed since the Booker decision. The Sentencing Commission has been gathering and promulgating data about post-Booker practice on a nearly monthly basis since April 2005. In consequence, we have a very good idea about how the post-Booker system has worked so far:

. . . since Booker, the rate of compliance with the Guidelines, by which I mean the percentage of cases sentenced within the guideline range calculated by the sentencing judge, has declined by about 11% nationally—from about 72% to about 61%.

. . . Virtually the entire country has experienced a decline in compliance with the guidelines. The compliance rate of every circuit has fallen, and compliance fell in more than 90% of all districts.

. . . the average length of a federal sentence in 2005 stayed the same as it was in 2004. On the other hand, the trend in sentence length (and guidelines compliance) from 2001-2004 was sharply up, the apparent result of conscious efforts by both Congress and the central administration of DOJ to increase guidelines adherence and criminal penalties. In short, the average federal sentence length post-Booker seems to reflect not maintenance of the status quo, but the sudden arrest of what had been a powerful and continuing upward surge.

. . . the decrease in guidelines compliance after Booker is almost entirely due to judicial action. Judges are using their new authority to reduce sentences below the range in almost 10% of all cases, and it is their exercise of this authority that is driving the decline in overall compliance rate.

I'll make no comment now on these facts, other than to suggest that the argument for delay in response to Booker cannot much longer be premised on the claim that we don't know how the new system will work. In fact, we have a very good idea of how it's working.
Indeed we do. It's working in favor of criminals. And that will lead to a resurgence of crime.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained