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Eric Holder

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“[W]e cut the federal prison population and the crime rate together for the first time in more than 40 years. Now, that’s right. That’s right. Despite the fiction and the fear mongering you have heard from the other party’s nominee, violent crime has gone down since President Obama took office.”

Eric Holder, July 26, 2016, Democratic National Convention speech 

We gave former attorney general Holder’s statement ONE BAR because it is MOSTLY TRUE. Both crime and the federal prison population have declined during the Obama administration, for the first time in 40 years. However, preliminary data from 2015 and 2016 show that violent crime has risen in those years, thus far.

Former Obama attorney general Eric Holder made two claims at the 2016 Democratic National Convention: first, that both the federal prison population and crime declined for the first time in more than 40 years during the Obama administration, and second, that violent crime has declined since President Obama has taken office. These claims are mostly true and get ONE BAR. 

  • While there was a slight decline in the federal prison population between 1977 and 1980, from about 27,000 prisoners to 24,640 prisoners, that was the last time in history that Americans saw one – until 2013. Between 1980 and 2013, the federal prison population was on an uninterrupted upward climb from 24,640 inmates in 1980 to the peak population of nearly 220,000 prisoners in 2013. Since 2013, the federal prison population has declined to less than 195,000 prisoners today. 
  • What happened to violent crime rates in the last 40 years? During that brief decline in the federal prison population between 1977 and 1980, the crime rate increased. That crime increase continued as the federal prison population grew. In the early 1990s, while the federal prison population continued to grow, crime peaked and finally began declining in what has been called the “great crime decline.” 
  • During the Obama administration, violent crime rates have continued their decline, even after the decline in the federal prison population began — so Holder is correct that this has been the first decline in crime and the federal prison population since 1976. In 2009, when President Obama came into office, the FBI reported a violent crime rate of 431.9 offenses per 100,000 people. By 2013, when the federal prison population started to decline, the violent crime rate had dropped 12.3 percent below 2009 levels and continued dropping, from 367.9 violent offenses per 100,000 people in 2013 to 365.5 violent offenses per 100,000 people in 2014, the last year for which the FBI has complete data.  
  • However, preliminary FBI data show that violent crime rose 1.7 percent in 2015, if compared to the number of violent crime offenses committed in the first half of 2014. Mid-year data from 51 law enforcement agencies, collected by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, also show increases in some violent crime categories thus far in 2016, compared with those crimes in the first half of 2015. While this increase is a cause for concern, it is still probably too soon to tell if it is an unusual blip upwards or the beginning of a long-term, upward trend. 

Because violent crime and the federal prison population declined together during the Obama administration for the first time in about 40 years, with the caveat that 2015 and 2016 preliminary data show a slight increase in violent crime, Holder’s statement is MOSTLY TRUE.

 

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“Black defendants in the federal system receive sentences 20 percent longer than their white peers.”

Eric Holder, July 26, 2016, Democratic National Convention speech

We gave former attorney general Holder’s statement ZERO BARS because it is TRUE. According to a 2012 U.S. Sentencing Commission report, black male offenders received sentences that were “19.5 percent longer than those of similarly situated White male offenders” sentenced in federal courts between 2007 and 2011. 

  • In a 2012 report examining demographic differences in federal sentencing, the nonpartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission analyzed and compared four different periods that were selected “based on Supreme Court decisions and legislation that influenced federal sentencing in fundamental ways.” Together, these periods spanned from 1996 to 2011, and across all four periods the racial disparity in sentencing was statistically significant.
  • The disparity, according to the report, was lowest during the May 2003 to June 2004 window (called the “PROTECT Act period”), when black defendants received sentences 5.5% longer than similarly situated white defendants. However, during the so-called “Gall period” of December 2007 to September 2011 – the most recent period in the report – the disparity was at its highest, with black male offenders receiving sentences that were “19.5 percent longer than those of similarly situated White male offenders.” The report demonstrates a consistent pattern of racial disparity in sentencing, and the figure Attorney General Holder cites reflects the most recent information analyzed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission on this issue.

FAMM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. FAMM does not endorse any candidate or party in any election, and it does not make any campaign contributions. The information here is not provided and should not be interpreted as an endorsement of any particular candidate or party.

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