Thursday, December 19, 2013

Inspector General's Report At Department of Justice Mimics Libertarian and Conservative Concerns

Above the Law recently summarized a report by the inspector general of the Department of Justice.  The conclusions reached sound like they came from the pages of Reason and other outlets.

It notes that every dollar spent on prisons is a dollar not spent on enforcement and prevention efforts.  It quotes the assistant attorney general who called prison costs "unsustainable."  In addition to Above the Law's analysis, it is interesting to find the opportunity cost argument used by the government.  Perhaps the sequester made some agencies realize that even a federal budget is finite.

Part of the prison cost will require some rethinking.  The writer explains that quite a few prisoners of means live in cells on the taxpayers' dime well into old age.  Could other options be available for non violent felons besides prison, at least in these circumstances.

The American Bar Association warned in 1998 that overfederalization "strains the fabric of the federal and state system."  It also noted that "there are powerful reasons for the fundamental limitations on federal criminal law."  General police power over day to day crime, according to constitutional law, is better left under the control of the states.  State courts can lose their importance, while federal courts become overburdened.  The ABA cites a number of other hazards of putting more police power in the hands of the federal government.

The inspector general warns that these chickens have come home to roost.  The federal government now can prosecute over 4,000 criminal offenses in federal law.  Add to that 10-100,000 possible federal regulations that could carry federal criminal penalties.  Moving back to state prosecutions of criminal law can "alleviate the budget crisis posed by the federal prison system."

Reevaluating federal prosecution of criminal law is the first step.  Next comes rethinking the mindset that allowed and encouraged this overreach in the first place.  An unrestrained federal leviathan is rampaging through our society.  Curbing the law enforcement prerogatives of this beast is one step toward restoring the proper proportion of power.

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