Conservative Review - The Missing Component of Criminal Justice “Reform”

In this photo taken Aug. 29, 2015, inmates walk in the the prison yard at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township, Pa.

Sean Simmers | AP Photo

The Missing Component of Criminal Justice “Reform”

By: Daniel Horowitz | October 13th, 2015

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All the cool kids in Washington are frenetically promoting “criminal justice reform” as if there is an imminent need to go soft on criminals.  With “immigration reform” on the ropes, the pseudo intellectuals inside the beltway are in pursuit of a new cause.  But much like immigration reform, unfortunately there is a real need to address an imminent problem within the criminal justice system.  Sadly, it’s the problem that has gone completely silent in this debate: the appalling spike in violent crime in many of our nation’s biggest cities. 

Sure, there are a lot of people in U.S. prisons, but before we focus on what to do with those in the prisons, let’s focus on what to do for those innocent people out of the prisons.

Much like the political elite’s version of immigration reform, the discussion over criminal justice reform invariably revolves around the criminals in a vacuum – with no regard to the growing problem for the victims and society.  Sure, there are a lot of people in U.S. prisons, but before we focus on what to do with those in the prisons, let’s focus on what to do for those innocent people out of the prisons.

During the period of time when the nation got tough on crime, employed more aggressive police tactics, and incarcerated more criminals, the rate of violent crime miraculously dropped by 70%.  From 1993 to 2013, the rate of violent crime fell from 79.8 to 23.2 victimizations per 1,000 persons.  Property crimes have gone down by 60% over the same period.  This era of low crime immediately followed the era of rampant violent crime in which judges were given full latitude to grant lenient sentences to all sorts of offenders.   From 1973 to 1991, the violent crime rate spiked 82.9%.  There are a number of advanced theories to explain this wild swing over the past half century but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that throwing the criminals in jail makes some sort of positive contribution (some experts attribute 25% of the reduction to increased incarceration).  After all, many of those convicted for drug offenses were involved in other violent crimes. 

Undoubtedly, the cost of incarcerating over 1.56 million people nationwide is something that should concern us all.  But before we grant Obama tailwinds in his “get out of jail free” agenda, wouldn’t we be wise to study the broader, more foundational, societal reasons America has so many criminals rather than irresponsibly allowing liberal judges to regress back to the high crime days of the ‘70s?  Moreover, let’s remember that of the 1.5 million prisoners, only 205,792 are in federal prisons. So it’s misleading to use the broader number when advocating leniency on a federal level. 

Let’s put aside for a moment the discussion of the actual Lee-Durbin legislation (S.2123), which grants federal judges more latitude to reduce sentences for federal drug offenders.  As we noted before, this is a complete non-issue because most drug offenders serving time in federal prison are either big time dealers or illegal aliens.  This bill will ostensibly allow Obama judges, who are obsessed with advancing the liberal agenda unlike anything we’ve ever seen, to let out even more illegal aliens onto our streets.  What we should really focus on is where this broader push for de-incarceration is headed and how it is the absolute worst time to be promoting such an agenda.

Thanks to Obama and his allies fanning the flames of race riots throughout the country, police are now scared to execute basic law enforcement operations.

Thanks to Obama and his allies fanning the flames of race riots throughout the country, police are now scared to execute basic law enforcement operations.  We are witnessing precipitous spikes in violent crime in many of the major cities, reversing the amazing social trend of crime reduction we’ve enjoyed over the past two decades.  Obama is now releasing 6,000 criminals from federal penitentiaries.  Whatever you think of drug laws, these individuals are often the same people arrested for other violent crimes, albeit serving time in prison only for a drug charge. 

The California voters recently passed Proposition 47 reducing many drug charges from felonies to misdemeanors.  As the Washington Post’s Eli Saslow notes in an in-depth report on Prop 47, along with the “successes” of reduced prison population have come the consequences of rising crime.  And while correlation doesn’t prove causation, Saslow reports from police chiefs that “instead of arresting criminals and removing them from the streets, their officers have been dealing with the same offenders again and again.” 

In addition to downgrading drug offenses, Prop 47 diminished the punishment for property crimes.  Not surprisingly, incidents of car break-ins have increased 47% in San Francisco this year.  

At a time when Obama is dismantling law enforcement, police officers are scared to make arrests, the federal judiciary has been replaced by radicals, and violent crime is increasing throughout the nation, should we take this roadshow to a federal level, where most of the criminals are indeed violent offenders or illegal aliens?

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) had it exactly right when he tweeted out the Washington Post report and said, “Fed reforms should proceed cautiously: In California, Prop 47 has turned into a ‘virtual get-out-of-jail free card.’”  One has to wonder, then, why Cornyn is a lead sponsor and negotiator of the pending legislation before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will employ similar leniencies on a federal level.

Once again, we must ask, where is the rush for federal oversight of Obama’s Justice Department and their contribution to rising crime?  What about the victims of crime?     

Conservatives would be wise to focus on the wave of violent crime and return to their roots as the defenders of law and order.  Any push for criminal justice “reform” should wait until we have the White House.  At that point, we can focus on the criminal code from a position of strengthen and prioritize changes to ridiculous regulatory crimes rather than promote the ACLU’s dangerous agenda.       

Daniel Horowitz is the Senior Editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative 

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