Monday, May 24, 2010

A Rare Breed

In his 43-year career as a federal judge, Jack B. Weinstein has come to be identified by his efforts to combat what he calls “the unnecessary cruelty of the law.” His most recent crusade is particularly striking because of the beneficiary: a man who has amassed a vast collection of child pornography.

There is little public sympathy for collectors of child pornography. Yet across the country, an increasing number of federal judges have come to their defense, criticizing changes to sentencing laws that have effectively quadrupled their average prison term over the last decade.

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Too many people have bought into the myth of deterrence - all we need to do is get tough on crime and the problem will be solved. Deterrence is far more complicated that this simple formula. And recent evidence suggests that we have lost most or all of any deterrent value by continuing to lengthen punishments.

Some states have begun to back off draconian punishments, but mainly due to the financial situation. But judges like Jack Weinstein are an example of the potential to reverse decades of failed sentencing policy. If more judges would follow his lead, prosecutors and legislatures might take heed.

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