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Right on Crime | March 21, 2011
For a country that managed without a federal prison for its first hundred years, the size of the current United States prison system—with nearly 210,000 inmates and 4,500 federal crimes—demonstrates that the federal government has assumed a more expansive role in criminal justice. In an editorial for The Washington Times, however, Pat Nolan and Julie Stewart argue that most criminal justice should instead be within the province of local authorities.
In light of a new rule introduced by Republican members of Congress requiring lawmakers to cite a specific constitutional power when proposing a bill, Nolan and Stewart are hopeful that the efforts will “halt the growing federalization of crime.” They argue that in addition to the explosion in federal drug laws and the introduction of new crimes like “carjacking,” Congress has also “turned traditionally state and local offenses into federal crimes…routinely [attaching] mandatory minimum sentences to the new crimes it has created.” What is surprising, they add, is how conservatives have supported this increasing federalization.
Conservative organizations like Right on Crime, however, are “part of a growing bipartisan consensus” concerned not only with the over-federalization of crime, but also with overcriminalization in general. Hopefully, the new Congressional rule will ultimately serve to reverse the trend towards unnecessary federalization.