Reporter Laments "Record Numbers Incarcerated," Ignores Drop in Crime Rate

Times reporter (and former Jimmy Carter appointee) looks back with regret at the "get tough" laws that doomed hundreds of thousands to recidivism.

Tomorrow'ssigning by President Bush of the bipartisan Second Chance Act inspired Eric Eckholm to regret the days of "get tough" sentencing in Tuesday's "U.S. Shifting Prison Focus To Re-entry Into Society."

Back in the 1970s and '80s, high crime and "get tough" laws meant longer sentences and more emphasis on punishment than on rehabilitation, and the federal and state governments spent billions building prisons. Today, as a legacy of those policies, not only are record numbers incarcerated, but also about 700,000 state and federal prisoners are released annually, many of them with little education or employment prospects and destined to be imprisoned again within a few years.

Eckholm, a former Carter administration political appointee, doesn't mention the lowering of the crime rate that accompanied the lamentable "get tough" laws and prison-building initiatives:

In a sharp change in attitudes about incarceration, many states and private groups have recently experimented with "re-entry" programs to help released prisoners fit back into their communities and avoid new crime.

The strategy will get a major boost this week. President Bush is to sign the Second Chance Act in a public ceremony on Wednesday, making rehabilitation a central goal of the federal justice system. In a sign of how far the pendulum has swung, the measure passed Congress with nearly unanimous bipartisan support.

Give Eckholm a smidgen of credit for balanced labeling: Sen. Sam Brownback is a "conservative Republican" and Rep. Danny Davis is a "liberal Democrat," and he also referenced "liberal activists" who support the bill.