Federal Prosecutors Declare Mass Incarceration is Fine

Every now and then, the first black president and his first black attorney general notice the issue of mass incarceration. Often but not always in front of a black audience, they observe that too many people languish prisons for too many minor offenses for far too long, and that far too many of them are black and brown. But in this, the sixth year of this president's and this attorney general's terms, the performance is getting kind of old.

Obama and Holder don't have magic wands, but they do possess plenty of real power. Like nobody else, the nation's top two lawyers can set the terms of discussion around policing, prosecuting and sentencing polices, and the prison state itself. The president and his Justice Department can reinterpret federal laws, can instruct federal agencies from the Department of Justice to the DEA and FBI and other federal cops. They can issue guidelines and directives speeding up or slowing down federal funding to thousands of local police departments in every corner of the land. They can promote, demote, transfer, hire and fire federal employees on every level, and create new jobs and job descriptions at whim to accomplish their policy objectives. But where there's a will, there's a won't.

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