Success in the Media

Holder: Jail is not only crime solution

Holder: Jail is not only crime solution
Chicago Tribune

August 4, 2009

CHICAGO – — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, addressing the American Bar Association on Monday, called for getting not only tough but also “smart” on crime, saying that jail is not the entire answer when it comes to law enforcement.

Noting that one of every 100 adults across the country is behind bars — “the highest incarceration rate in the world” — Holder said that putting people in prison costs too much economically and socially in a nation where car dealerships are closing, teachers are getting laid off and after-school programs are being cut.

“But in almost all cases, spending on prisons continues to rise,” Holder said during a roughly 20-minute speech at the association’s annual meeting in Chicago. “This is unsustainable economically.”

Holder called for new strategies and tools to fight crime, such as studying what happens to inmates once they leave prison and developing programs based more on their failure or success.

As an example, Holder cited drug court programs that offer alternatives to jail time for nonviolent criminals, including treatment for their drug habits and routine follow-up testing for drug use.

“These programs give no one a free pass,” Holder said. “They are strict and can be difficult to get through. But for those who succeed, there is the real prospect of a productive future.”

He noted a New York program that uses data to map where crime is likely to happen, and the deployment of more officers to those areas.

Holder also wants to identify and tailor programs for children who are most at risk for committing crimes later in life. Also on the table, Holder said, are addressing a lack of resources for public defenders — a line that drew applause from the assembled lawyers — and reviewing federal sentencing and corrections policy.

The latter would include looking at disparities in sentences for the sale or possession of crack versus powder cocaine, and in sentences among racial and ethnic groups. The attorney general said he wants to use any findings to drive reforms in the federal sentencing structure.

A data-driven approach to detecting and preventing economic and online crimes also is key, Holder said. He highlighted a Medicare fraud task force in Houston made up of local, state and federal investigators that last week indicted 32 people for submitting more than $16 million in false Medicare claims. The task force analyzed billing records as part of its investigation.

“We need to understand crime in context in order to prevent it,” Holder said.

At the job for six months, Holder said he’s worked to “move past politics and ideology” toward building a criminal justice system based on fairness and effectiveness.

Holder did not take questions after his speech.

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