Rule changes in any game can be problematic as they often inject a heightened sense of difficulty when measuring individual statistical achievements. A significant revision can throw once orderly measurements of ability into complete disarray, casting a pall upon career accomplishments. Some formerly significant accomplishments may even be reduced to relative non-events with the addition of a dreaded asterisk.
Prosecuting individuals in federal court has long been seen as a game by government prosecutors. The current 99% rate of conviction in federal courts makes it something akin to shooting fish in a barrel, but with significantly greater rewards. Those who can successfully, and without compunction, convict at any cost are fast tracked up the judicial corporate ladder. Success is measured in years and regardless of guilt, innocence or the level of relative culpability, a longer sentence always looks better on one's resume than a shorter one.
Despite its destructive results, federal prosecutors continue to argue for maintaining the policy of mass incarceration
The game of federal justice has nothing to do with public protection; it is merely a pretense bandied about to allow the self-serving abuse to continue unabated.
Recent calls for change in the federal criminal justice system are being met with stiff resistance by federal prosecutors, largely due to a fear that their ability to rack up impressive statistics will be unnecessarily impeded. The rule changes not only impact prosecutors' ability to strong-arm judges into imposing stunningly draconian sentences, but also threaten their ability to coerce 97% of federal defendants into waiving their constitutionally guaranteed right to trial. Convictions become significantly easier to achieve when the defendants agree to essentially convict themselves.
Proponents as politically disparate as Rand Paul and Patrick Leahy have reached across the political aisle in a call for reigning in America's penchant for mass incarceration. Even U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a career prosecutor, recognizes the societal damage being inflicted by continuing unfettered down the current path of wholesale imprisonment. Few would dispute that the prevailing political trend favors at least a moderate relaxation of America's notoriously harsh criminal penalties.
Even vocal opponents of the Obama administration like Texas Governor Rick Perry have joined in Holder's call for smarter sentencing. While Perry and Holder may not agree on much, they have reached a consensus on the ongoing failed efforts to combat certain crimes. They jointly recognize that the U.S. incarcerates too many people for too long, a wasteful policy that often disproportionately punishes minor offenders with undue harshness.
Marc Levin, policy director of the Texas organization Right on Crime, has a good summary of Perry's new approach to incarceration: "Prison is good for people that we're scared of, but not people that we're mad at."