The DOJ safety scam

The truth, in both cases, is government too often spends what it spends to keep its employees’ jobs safe, and the money is for who gets the paycheck. It never takes much to verify these truths whether one looks at government spending in education, roads, or even criminal justice.
 
A report released by the GOP House Judiciary Committee accused Attorney General Holder of providing “deceptive and misleading testimony” to lawmakers about the Justice Department’s criminal probes of journalists. Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) called it a “recent example in a long list of scandals that have plagued the Department.”
 
The chairman’s point is important and better applied if lawmakers ask why every appropriation in criminal justice is explained by politicians with ‘deceptive and misleading’ facts and figures. The money isn’t being spent to make us safer, to show greater respect for victims of crimes or to reduce the likelihood a person will stop committing new crimes. The money is instead being spent to increase pay, hire more people and buy better stuff for people who work in the system. Little is focused on improvements to what the public wanted in the first place.
 

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The Bureau of Prisons has ballooned in scope and cost, but it’s not making us safer. The combined state prison populations have decreased for the third year in a row without spikes in crime rates. Yet while states are getting smart on crime, the federal prison system is missing the mark, averaging an annual population increase of 3.2 percent each year over the past 10 years.  In 1980, the federal prison system managed 25,000 inmates. Today, at more than 219,000 inmates, the system is dangerously overcrowded and operating at nearly 140 percent of its capacity.
 
This comes at a price, of course.  The president’s FY 2014 budget request for the federal Bureau of Prisons was $6.9 billion, swallowing more than 25 percent of the Department of Justice’s budget and squeezing out resources for prosecutors, victims’ services, and other crime-fighting tools. 
 
It is due time that we apply conservative scrutiny to the Bureau’s exorbitant and unsustainable trajectory. Thankfully, we have a few leaders willing to set aside politics and offer solutions.
 
Recently, an unlikely pair, “conservative” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and the traditionally more “liberal” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act. The legislation will advance more effective and just criminal sentencing for non-violent drug offenses and refocus the Bureau of Prisons’ resources on the most serious offenders and on crime prevention.
 
Conservatives in Washington are waking up to the fact that spending more money doesn’t equal more public safety. Just as conservatives properly ask, ‘What is the money for?’ in education and healthcare, they are beginning to properly question the Department of Justice’s spending.
 
The justice system is supposed to increase public safety, protect victims’ rights and decrease the odds that a person will commit new crimes. The Smarter Sentencing Act takes a significant step in improving public safety by stewarding taxpayer dollars more effectively. And for that, people on both sides of the political aisle should be thankful.
 
DeRoche is president of Justice Fellowship, the criminal justice reform affiliate of Prison Fellowship founded by the late Chuck Colson that can be found online at JusticeFellowship.org.