Loretta Lynch: ‘Building More Jails is Not the Ultimate Solution’

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More than 30 of America’s leading criminologists, policymakers and law enforcement authorities joined journalists for a hard-hitting examination of “smart justice” at the 8th annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

The two-day symposium, ‘Smart Justice: Changing How We Think About Crime and Punishment (And How We Report It),’ is sponsored by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ), which also publishes The Crime Report.

Loretta Lynch, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, delivered opening remarks on the first day of the symposium; and Mary Lou Leary, acting assistant Attorney General, will deliver opening remarks on Tuesday.

We updated this page throughout the day.

8:30 am: Loretta Lynch, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York is this morning’s keynote speaker. She’ll be addressing the symposium in a few minutes.

9:00 am: Lynch spoke about the importance the Department of Justice’s “three-pronged” approach to criminal justice: crime prevention, prosecution and re-entry.

“Arresting more people or building more jails is not the ultimate solution to crime in our society. If there’s one thing we’ve learned is that there is no one solution,” Lynch said.

“When I review my office’s gang portfolio, which sadly is as robust as when I was a junior prosecutor. I see a double-tragedy. I see these young men, who are predominantly black, I see not only the lives that they take, but the lives of these young men,” she added. “When these young men and increasingly young women are turned out, what have we put in place to support them in their lives.”

9:08 am: Lynch touched on the the problems of guns in urban communities: “Here in New York the shadow trade of firearms… escalates violence to an alarming degree.”

9:15 am: When asked by a reporter about accusations of entrapment by the Department of Justice in high-profile domestic terrorism cases, Lynch said the claims would seem less viable if the DoJ was able to share certain classified evidence.

“I’m not able to target someone without the probable cause that they have the intent,” Lynch said. “What we try to show that anyone who claims that (entrapment) is predisposed.”

9:30 am: Lynch was asked about the New York Police Department’s controversial “Stop, Question and Frisk” policy.

“I think it can be used and it can be misused. It’s a tool, just like anything else. It depends on who’s using it,” she said. “I think there’s a tendency in law enforcement that when something works, to put all the resources behind it. Sometimes there’s a lot of thought, and sometimes there’s not.”

Panel 1: Smart Justice Politics: Setting a Bipartisan Agenda for Change

Moderator: Ailsa Chang, NPR

Panelists: Michael Jacobson, Director, Vera Institute; Jerry Madden, Senior Fellow, Right on Crime; former chair Corrections Committee, Texas Assembly; Bobby Vassar, Chief Counsel (minority) Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, House Judiciary Committee; Darrin Williams, Speaker pro tem & former chair, Judiciary Committee, Arkansas House of Representatives

9:50 am: Jacobson, who recently co-authored a study on New York’s shrinking prisons, says there’s bi-partisan support for ‘Smart Justice’ policies.

“There’s almost universal academic acceptance that our system is too big, that we spend too much money,” Jacobson said. “You can’t find a state that is not making some pretty significant changes.”

10:50 am: Much of the conversation has revolved around how the debate on crime as framed criminal justice reform. Federally, Vassar said, the debate has always been portrayed as “Tough on Crime vs. Soft on Crime, which of course is a false dichotomy.”

Madden and Williams say the most significant reforms have come at the state level, where the majority of incarcerated people are processed and housed. Because criminal justice systems account for a higher percentage of state budgets than the federal budget, states have had to lead the way in figuring out how to lower costs and crime rates at the same time.

Madden said he approached the problem in Texas, by analyzing the prison population.

“There are two types of prisoners, the ones we’re afraid of and the ones we’re mad at,” Madden said. The key to lowering Texas’ prison population, he said, was recognizing that the group “we’re mad at” often needed treatment for disorders as opposed to prolonged incarceration. “If they’re alcoholics, treat their alcoholism. If they’re drug addicts, tread their drug addiction. If they’ve got mental health problems, treat that.”

Williams said the Arkansas legislature spent a year compiling prison spending data to build its case that the state was spending too much on prisons with too little reward. “We threw the book at criminals, unfortunately that book was the state’s checkbook.”

However, Vassar noted that the budgetary argument is tougher to use at the federal level, where corrections is a small percentage of overall budget and therefore harder for politicians to make substantial cases for.

“The problem politicians face is that no one’s ever lost an election for being tough on crime,” Vassar said, noting that the media can help by educating the public about smart justice reforms. “Maybe someone can lose for being dumb on crime.”

Panel 2: Turning Lawbreakers into Law Abiders: New Approaches to Incarceration and Reentry

Panelists: Al Blumstein, Distinguished Professor, Carnegie Mellon University; Adam Gelb, Director, Pew Public Safety Performance Project; Chris Epps, Commissioner, Mississippi Department of Corrections; John Wetzel, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

Moderator: Martin Horn, Distinguished Lecturer, John Jay College; Executive Director, New York State Sentencing Commission

1:15 pm: The discussion focused on America’s increased reliance on incarceration towards the end of the 20th century and efforts to wean states off over-incarceration in the last decade. Blumstein and Gelb began by showing a series of graphs and charts that illustrated the increase in imprisonment during the last decade. The nation’s incarceration was basically flat from 1925 to 1975; it skyrocketed between 1975 and 2000 and plateaued during the last decade. Blumstein offered recommendations for lowering the rate:

  • Reduce commitments and time served
  • Repeal (or sunset) mandatory laws and reduce long sentences
  • Expunge the “soft on crime” phobia
  • Do individual risk assessment of sentencing and parole revocations
  • Treat drugs as a public-health problem

Blumstein argued that incarceration has little use in combatting drugs. “When you lock up a rapist, you take his rapes off the streets. When you incarcerate a drug dealer, you recruit his replacement,” Blumstein said.

In analyzing the difference between “new” and “old” approaches to incarceration, Gelb highlighted what he called “A tale of two states,” Florida and New York. The states started the 2000s with about same prison population, but finished the decade with Florida housing 40,000 more inmates. While Florida incarcerated more people, its crime rate declined less (28 percent) than New York’s 29 (percent).

In order to decrease their prison rolls, Epps and Wetzel said their states looked at alternatives to incarceration and re-classified many prisoners. Mississippi increased the number of inmates given medical release and monitored release; Pennsylvania began housing offenders serving less than a year separately from violent offenders and made it easier for short-term inmates to apply for parole.

Corrections supervisors argued that the media has to play a stronger role in education the public about ‘smart’ criminal justice reforms. Wetzel said that corrections departments aren’t held to the same public standard as other fields.

“We expect in the medical field for there to be all this research and then for the medical field to make changes based on that research. We haven’t been held to that same standard,” Wetzel said.

Panel 3: Grassroots Strategies for Crime Prevention and Control (Part 1): Focusing on At-Risk Communities, At-Risk Kids

Panelists: James Brodick, Director, Brownsville (NY) Community Justice Center; Monica Evans, Detroit Police Department, Operation Safe Passages; Harold Trulear, Director, Philadelphia Healing Communities Prison Ministries

Moderator: Katti Gray, Contributing Editor, The Crime Report

Panelists discussed their unique approaches to changing mindsets about criminal justice at the community level. Each speaker spoke about the importance of getting local stakeholders to “buy in” to the programs. Harold Trulear’s Healing Communities Prison Ministries accesses leaders within religious congregations to identify those who need help; Monica Evans first approaches school administrators and parents; Brodick’s organization surveys the community, asking residents what they would want if they had a say in community safety procedures.

Panelists said that once grassroots organizations have solid foundations, they have to focus on education and support services.

Evans said she works to eradicate the ‘us and them’ mentality that divides law enforcement from community residents. “In our community… they’ve become so hardened to (the likelihood of getting arrested), that when I talk to people who are 15 and 16, their reality is they expect that they’ll be in jail by 24,” Evans said. The ‘us and them’ mentality extends beyond relationships between police and residents, Evan said, noting that she meets a lot of resistance from administrators and teachers to restorative justice measures or any programs that de-emphasize “zero tolerance” policies.

The Brownsville Community Justice Center tries to be a bridge between residents and the police department, relaying community concerns to the local police captain.

“Having the ear of the local precinct captain has been critical,” Brodick said. In addition, he said that education for more than low-level jobs can empower communities. “We have to set up communities for careers instead of jobs.”

Trulear spoke about the fact that many churches and mosques don’t provide services for those who have been incarcerated or who have family members who have been incarcerated.

“We’re trying to get them to take existing resources that they have, and get them to work with a population that they’re not normally working with,” Trulear said.

PANEL 4: Raising Capital for Justice: Social Impact Bonds and the Private Sector

Panelists: Alicia Glen, Manager, Urban Investment Group, Goldman Sachs; Elizabeth Gaynes, Executive Director, Osborne Association; Kimora, Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Moderator: Dean Starkman, Editor, “The Audit” Columbia Journalism Review

The goal of Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group is to mitigate certain inequities inherent in the financial industry, according to Glen, who highlighted the difference between charges at check-cashing chains and high-end banks.

To that end, Glen said Goldman Sachs came up with the idea of using ‘Social Impact Bonds,’ which have a misleading name, Glen explained:

“The first thing is there’s no such things as social impact bonds, it’s social impact not-a-bond. Bonds are traded; this is a loan,” she said. Goldman Sachs is lending $10 million to the non-profit MDRC for a program called Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience (ABLE) and will get paid back by New York City in full only if the recidivism rate among ABLE’s participants is reduced by 10 percent. The loan is insured up to 74 percent by the Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation.

Kimora said the 10 percent figure was chosen because “the effect has to be enough to close an entire Rikers housing unit.”

Goldman Sachs is funding ABLE for four years, at which point the VERA Institute of Justice will independently assess the programs success rate.

The Social Impact Bonds were announced by New York City in August, and already there have been some bumps in the road, Gaynes said. While she thinks the program will be successful, she said there are problems “working around the edges” of a deal structured by City officials and a financial firm.

“We are stuck with a model that was designed by people who are not involved,” Gaynes said, adding that in the future she expects the organization to do its own fundraising.

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