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A New Mandatory Minimum for Illegal Immigration is a Costly Bad Idea

in Criminal Justice, Immigration, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Jackson Jones Comments are off

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Senate Republicans plan to bring to legislation to the floor in September that will target so-called “sanctuary cities” that provide a safe haven for illegal immigrants. The bill, according to a Politico report last month, “would block funding for cities and other local governments that decline to cooperate with federal immigration officials.”

mandatory minimum  sentencingThere’s a recent wrinkle in that a) doesn’t make much sense and b) could undermine efforts in Congress to reform America’s criminal justice system. In response to the tragic murder of Kate Steinle at the hands of an illegal immigrant, some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, want this proposal attached to the sanctuary cities bill.

“Kate’s Law” would require a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for any immigrant who re-enters the United States illegally. Those who are lobbying for the measure, either professionally or through citizen activism, don’t seem to understand the costs associated with housing federal prisoners.

On average, the annual price tag for incarcerating a federal inmate is around $30,000. Multiplied by five years; that’s $150,000 to incarcerate someone who those pushing for the bill don’t want here, anyway.

Greg Newburn of Families Against Mandatory Minimums notes that this isn’t a small sum, given the number of people incarcerated for illegal re-entry in the most recent fiscal year for which data are available. “According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 16,556 offenders were sentenced for illegal reentry in FY 2014,” Newburn writes, ” 98.6% of those offenders were sentenced to prison; the average sentence was 17 months.”

“If they all received five-year mandatory minimums rather than the average sentences of 17 months, new incarceration costs would be $1.78 billion per year. That’s nearly $2 billion that could be spent on finding, arresting, and prosecuting violent undocumented immigrants that will instead have to be spent on incarcerating people [who’ve re-entered the United States illegally],” he added.

Not only does “Kate’s law” fail to make any fiscal sense, it could undermine movement on criminal justice reform, which is currently a topic of serious discussion in both chambers of Congress. Much of the logic behind this effort is that there are too many people in prison and mass incarceration is too expensive.

Although he’s been a reluctant participant, Grassley led discussions in the Senate Judiciary Committee to bring legislation that would include some mandatory minimum sentences, though the expansion of the federal safety valve, and prison reforms to reduce the likelihood that offenders will engage in recidivist behavior.

Enacting a new and very costly mandatory minimum sentence defeats the purpose of criminal justice reform. In fact, this is how mass incarceration in the United States really took off. Congress enacted harsh sentences, including mandatory minimum sentences, as a reaction to a problem. As well intended as these policies were, they haven’t been an effective deterrent to crime. This proposed mandatory sentence won’t be any different.

Libertarian Candidates Pledge: End the Failed and Immoral War on Drugs

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 18 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Scores of Libertarian Party candidates for federal office have pledged to downsize the bloated federal government — in these big and specific ways:

  • Eliminate the federal income tax
  • Abolish the NSA
  • Cut military spending by 60%
  • End the War on Drugs

End the War on DrugsWe’re exploring each of these pledges in detail, one per issue, because the Libertarian Party has done a great job of showing that these bold proposals are not only possible, but practical and enormously beneficial. (You can read about all four positions here.)

Here’s the final one: End the failed War on Drugs.

The candidates pledge: “If elected, I will sponsor legislation to end the War on Drugs, release all victimless drug ‘criminals’ from prison, abolish the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and cut taxes accordingly.”

Here is the Libertarian Party’s case for ending the failed War on Drugs:

  • The War on Drugs has proven far more deadly and destructive than drugs themselves. 
  • Just as alcohol prohibition prompted organized crime, consumption of stronger alcoholic drinks, and an epidemic of alcohol overdose deaths, drug prohibition has prompted the formation of deadly street gangs, use of stronger drugs, and an increase in drug overdose deaths.
  • Because of the Drug War, the United States incarcerates more people than any country on earth. More than 500,000 Americans are now serving time in jail or prison for drug “offenses.” They are peaceful citizens, separated from their children and families, who could be living productive lives. Instead, their incarceration has cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion since 1971.
  • More than 658,000 people are arrested every year for mere possession of marijuana, diverting attention from where it should be: on violent criminals.
  • Marijuana prohibition denies those suffering from cancer, AIDS, migraines, glaucoma, and other serious diseases their right to an effective treatment that both reduces suffering and saves lives.

When we end the War on Drugs:

  • Crime will go down dramatically, making our streets and homes safer.
  • Law enforcement will focus more on finding and prosecuting murderers, rapists, and thieves.
  • People now in prison who never harmed another human being will be free to go home to their families. Their children will grow up with their mom or dad at home.
  • Each taxpayer will get back hundreds of dollars — every year — that they now spend on today’s failed prohibition. Money they can save, spend, or give away to others in need.
  • People suffering from cancer, AIDS, and other serious diseases will have dignified and safe access to medical marijuana, giving them their best chance for a long and healthy life.
  • Finally, ending the War on Drugs sends the right message to kids:

Be personally responsible.
Be just, be reasonable, and honor individual rights.
Admit mistakes and get rid of bad laws that don’t work.
End unnecessary human suffering.

They Said It

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the They Said It section in Volume 19, No. 3 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

LIBERTARIANS, REPEAT AFTER ME: “Libertarians, repeat after me. The goal is Jeffrey Tuckerhuman liberty. The dream is human liberty. The ideal is human liberty. The end is human liberty. Therefore the subject is human liberty. And what does liberty encompass? All things wonderful, productive, beautiful, creative, magnificent. It’s because you believe in these things that you are a libertarian. Anything that distracts from human liberty, much less contradicts that, is irrelevant to the libertarian message. Don’t get distracted. Please. Civilization needs your voice, your passion, your love.” — libertarian writer and entrepreneur Jeffrey Tucker, Facebook, October 12, 2013.

Justice Antonin ScaliaJUDGE SCALIA: MASS ROUND-UPS, IMPRISONMENT COULD HAPPEN (AGAIN): “Well, of course, Korematsu [1944 US Supreme Court decision upholding mass incarceration of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II] was wrong. And I think we have repudiated in a later case. But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again. ‘Silent enim leges inter arma.’ [In times of war, the laws fall silent.] That’s what was going on — the panic about the war and the invasion of the Pacific and whatnot. That’s what happens. It was wrong, but I would not be surprised to see it happen again, in time of war. It’s no justification but it is the reality.” — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaking to law students at the University of Hawaii law school, Feb. 3, 2014.

THE WAR ON DRUGS VS PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: “Our drug policy ofEugene Robinson prohibition and interdiction makes it difficult and dangerous for people like Hoffman to get high, but not impossible — and it makes these tragic overdose deaths more common than they have to be. The obvious problem is that when an addict buys drugs on the street, he or she has no way of knowing how pure the product is and what else it might contain. …As long as this commerce is illegal, it is totally unregulated. Since we know that addicts will continue to buy drugs on the street, we also know that some will die from drugs that are either too potent or adulterated with other substances that could make them lethal. Is this really the intent of our drug policy? To invite users to kill themselves?” — syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson, “Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death shows that we’re losing this drug war,” Feb. 3, 2014.

Vermont Governor Peter ShumlinVERMONT GOV. SAYS WAR ON DRUGS IS LOST: “We have lost the War on Drugs. The notion that we can arrest our way out of this problem is yesterday’s theory.” — Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, PBS Newshour, January 9, 2014.

NEW JERSEY GOV. CHRISTIE DENOUNCES “FAILED New Jersey Governor Chris ChristieWAR ON DRUGS”: “We will end the failed War on Drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse. We will make drug treatment available to as many of our non-violent offenders as we can and we will partner with our citizens to create a society that understands that every life has value and no life is disposable. We will fight to continue to change government so that we value our differences and honor the strength of our diversity.” — Gov. Chris Christie‘s inaugural speech, Jan. 21, 2014.

Erick EricksonLAISSEZ FAIRE: “You know what the government can do for me? Leave me the hell alone. They can’t get us through airports without groping us, they can’t deliver our mail without a bailout, they can’t fight a war without turning the military into a sociological experiment, and they can’t manage healthcare without 404 errors, death panels, and rigged numbers to hide massive debt. Leave us alone. … If they’d just leave us alone, I suspect we’d be just fine, have more freedom, and Main Street could be productive again.” — conservative commentator Erick Erickson, “Leave Us Alone,”,  January 28th, 2014.