Back around 1992, then-Attorney General William P. Barr ordered published a Justice Department broadside, “The Case for More Incarceration,” in which prison was described as the best antidote to crime. Mr. Barr repeated in public the report’s bottom line: “The choice, then, is simple: more prisons or more crime.”
Mr. Barr’s ideologically driven bent drove the United States to achieve its place as the nation that incarcerated more of its population than any other: With one-twentieth the world’s population, we held one-fourth of its prisoners. Mostly brown, Black and decidedly poor. Many locked up for years to meet the demands of the “war on drugs” that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush advanced. No evidence backed Mr. Barr’s claims, and time proved Mr. Barr wrong: Crime ended up decreasing as imprisonment decreased in states such as New York, California, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Now, Mr. Barr leaves office having just accepted an award honoring his Catholicism even as he ordered the execution of federal prisoners, including one woman and a man who committed his crime at the age of 18, despite his church’s teachings against capital punishment.
He was a good fit for President Trump. He was never the honorable or institutionally stabilizing force that some hoped for. His decision to admit that there was no provable fraud in this last election may be seen as an effort to rehabilitate himself.
Like so many of Mr. Trump’s enablers, he will go down poorly in history.
Malcolm C. Young, Washington
The writer is the founder and a former director of the Sentencing Project.