Irving Kristol famously described a neoconservative as a liberal who has been mugged by reality. The question for many political elites, including self-described conservatives, who have bought into the extreme de-incarceration agenda is whether they will have to be literally mugged in order to understand the reality of crime and incarceration.
Prisons exist for a very a good reason: Namely, to keep people like Usman Khan off the streets. Khan had been convicted on terrorism charges as part of a plot to attack the London Stock Exchange in 2010. However, much as in America, the trend of de-incarceration is very much in vogue in Great Britain, so even a violent terrorist like Khan was only sentenced to 16 years. And much as in America, where early release programs are placed ahead of public safety, Khan was released last year after serving just eight years. He was among 74 others convicted on terrorism charges released under a similar program on electronic monitoring devices, which have proven to be an unreliable deterrent.
Last Friday, Khan, as a prison release “success story,” was invited to a conference of Learning Together, a Cambridge University Initiative dedicated to promoting these rehabilitation programs over incarceration. Tragically, Khan had other ideas. He showed up armed with two knives and a fake suicide vest and killed two members of Learning Together and wounded three others before he was shot dead by police near London Bridge.
Every time there is a mass shooting, there is a clamor for introspection on gun laws. But somehow, the same media views any dialogue over incarceration of the actual criminal to be off limits.
Ahead of the high-profile British elections, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was indignant that such a man was on the streets: “I have long argued that it is a mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early,” said the prime minister.
Much as with Brexit, I suspect that most of the public agrees with Johnson, but the elites are completely owning the criminal justice issue. And it’s not just in Britain. Unlike Johnson, Trump was convinced to buy into this early release and “rehabilitation” culture over one of strong deterrent by signing the so-called First Step Act, a move he reportedly regrets. Joel Francisco, a drug trafficker and gang leader who pleaded no contest to attempted murder in 1998, was released earlier this year because of the bill and is now charged with another murder in Providence, Rhode Island.
The professor recognized for “rehabilitating” Khan once got a British-born murderer released early from a U.S. prison. According to the U.K. Daily Mail, Dr. Ruth Armstrong, who created the Learning Together program, campaigned for the release of Briton Dempsey Hawkins, who served 38 years in a U.S. jail for strangling a 14-year-old girl to death in New York. Hawkins moved from Britain to the U.S. when he was six and was convicted in 1978 of murdering Susan Jacobson, his former girlfriend. The Mail reports that Hawkins was released a few years ago and deported back to Great Britain, and “Dr Armstrong was among a team of people who campaigned for his release – and even got him a job in her husband’s Cambridge restaurant ‘Nanna Mexico’.”
Hawkins is now accused of sexually harassing a female teacher with “creepy” texts.
This is the problem with the entire jailbreak movement. It has nothing to do with targeted rehabilitation for those who aren’t a danger to society, where early release could be a win-win. It’s 100 percent rooted in the belief that prison is immoral and provides no balance of equities for the security of society. Second and third chances are already built into the system, and as it is, too many violent criminals aren’t put away for long enough or at all, yet those behind this movement think too many are in prison.
These same ridiculously vague rehabilitation programs were written into the First Step Act that passed last December. The bill created vague and ill-defined legal requirements for recidivism reduction programs that will grant early release. Under the new law, a prisoner will earn good time credits for “every 30 days of successful participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities.” Congress punted the responsibility of defining those programs to the administrative state. “Productive activities” is likewise ill-defined as “either a group or individual activity that is designed to allow prisoners determined as having a minimum or low risk of recidivating to remain productive and thereby maintain a minimum or low risk of recidivating.”
These laws are self-fulfilling in the goal of reducing the prison population as the endgame, because they hand the “education” programs over to the very same nonprofit organizations that believe that society has wronged the criminal and not the other way around. Thus, this movement has never been about true rehabilitation with accountability and metrics, and more importantly public safety; it’s all about getting as many people out of prison as possible.
The devastating effects of de-incarceration are not just the results of those released re-offending but also manifest in other criminals being less deterred from committing crimes now that they know the system is reluctant to lock them up for a while, or at all. This is why, after 20 straight years of crime going down, crime, drugs, theft, vagrancy, and subway attacks are now going up in many cities.
Thus, “prison reform” is not just limited to the European leftists. Even American “conservatives” have bought into it. In fact, Doug Collins, Republican ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, was the House sponsor of the First Step Act.
As Senator Chuck Grassley said, just six months before he joined the movement himself, “They are committed to the bill as a matter of ideology. The facts simply do not matter to them. They try to change the subject. All they can do is resort to rhetoric. In fact, the supporters of that legislation are Orwellian in their rhetoric.”
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.