Prosecutors, innocents in jail, and incentives

One of the ongoing themes throughout the Criminal Justice Policy course I taught this summer was how bad incentives create bad outcomes.  Dahlia Lithwick had a nice piece in Slate last week about how prosecutors’ incentives all too often lead to wrongful convictions.  It’s a fascinating story about yet another person on death row due to prosecutorial misconduct (you really should read the whole article), but here’s what I wanted to highlight:

But the problem is more profound than a failure to train young prosecutors in their constitutional obligations. It is the lopsided nature of the American criminal justice system itself. Last May, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Connickdecision, retired Justice John Paul Stevens noted in a speech the system’s “imbalanced incentives.” Because prosecutors must always show themselves to be tough on crime, Stevens said, the pressure to get convictions will always outweigh the benefits of protecting the rights of the defendant. Yet after-the-fact scrutiny of a prosecutor’s role in a case can be costly, time-consuming, and, in some cases, irrelevant if it comes too late to save the life of the wrongly accused.

Hey, I’m on vacation, so no solutions from me today, just the remark that we really need to do something about prosecutorial misconduct and it needs to start by changing prosecutors’ incentives.

George Will goes Tea Party

I honestly wonder how much less smart people would think George Will was if he did not wear a bow tie.  Sure, he’s more intelligent and well-read than your typical conservative pundit, but that’s a low bar.  What’s notable about Will, is that he is fairly consistently genuinely conservative (in the classic, less change, Burkean sense) regardless of the current whims of the Republican party.  Thus, somewhat surprising yesterday to see him endorsing the Tea Party lunacy:

Thanks largely to the Tea Party, today, more than at any time since Reagan’s arrival 30 years ago, Washington debate is conducted in conservatism’s vocabulary of government retrenchment. The debt-ceiling vote, an action-forcing mechanism of limited utility, has at least demonstrated that Obama is, strictly speaking, unbelievable.

Never mind that Tea Party budget proposals make fairly tales look realistic.  It’s this absurd close, though, that really got me:

Richard Miniter, a Forbes columnist, is right: “Obama is not the new FDR, but the new Gorbachev.” Beneath the tattered, fading banner of reactionary liberalism, Obama struggles to sustain a doomed system. Democrats’ dependency agenda — swelling the ranks of government employees, multiplying government-subsidized industries, enveloping ever-more individuals in the entitlement culture — is buckling under an intractable contradiction: It is incompatible with economic growth sufficient to create enough wealth to feed the multiplying tax eaters.

Events are validating the Tea Partyers’ arguments. Time is on their side — but not on America’s, unless the impediment to reform is removed in 16 months.

Seriously?!  Events are validating the people who somehow think we can magically cut our budget to 16% of GDP despite the hugely overwhelming evidence that the American people– including the vast majority of “conservatives”  want way more government than that allows for?  And as for history, somehow I missed the ongoing historical trend where advanced democracies are moving away from the social welfare state.  There’s a very clear trend of what people in rich societies want (sure, they may go a little far in some countries, requiring some retrenchment, but not a conceptual overhaul as Will’s comments would suggest) and what they want is a government that does things for them.  The Gorbachev analogy is facially absurd for anybody who knows the least bit if history– which Will generally pretends to do much better.

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