There is a movement that is making news across the country. It is non-partisan in that it seems to have the support of many Democrats and many Republicans. It is non-ideological in that it appears to have the backing of leftists, moderates and conservatives. It looks like it is the most unifying idea in a political landscape that is a mine field on virtually every other issue. Anti-Trumpers, Never-Trumpers, impeach Trumpers and President Trump himself, and members of his Administration have spoken in favor of it. It is the broad umbrella of criminal justice reform. While some of the ideas discussed in this so-called reform may have merit, most are just wrong headed.
California has created a template for criminal justice reform that is already impacting the state. Through initiatives and laws, the state has released so-called “non-violent” prisoners from state prison. The state has lowered the seriousness of many crimes and the penalties for being convicted. Some felonies have become misdemeanors, some misdemeanors were lowered to infractions. Does any thinking adult believe that these reforms will do anything but increase the number of crimes?
In addition, too many of the cities and counties are declaring themselves to being “sanctuary” jurisdictions, in which they would refuse to hold criminally accused illegal aliens in custody until they could be picked up by federal immigration enforcement officials, even though holds have been requested by the feds. In fact the whole state declared itself a sanctuary state through laws that place sanctions on law enforcement officers who cooperate with federal immigration officials. Here's a clue: a criminal who is kept in jail cannot commit crimes against those outside the jail walls.
The justifications for these new reforms sound reasonable, but are questionable at best. One of the many reasons given for the need for criminal justice reform is that we have “mass incarcerations,” especially of minority suspects. The rise in crime in the 1950s, 60s and 70s led to the enactment of stricter laws and sentences. In an attempt to curb recidivism, “Three Strikes” were implemented. These laws required the a suspect convicted of a third specified felony (at least one of which was violent), be sentence to 25 years to life imprisonment. These laws worked. Crime rates dropped dramatically.
One of the myths the progressive/socialist left has sold to the public and politicians of other persuasions is that the current system is racist since the minority prison population is disproportionally large. (This is another case of possibly well meaning politicians attempting to fix a problem that they created by coming up with a worse solution. The welfare reforms in the War on Poverty destroyed many minority families. Male children, without fathers are many times more likely to commit crimes than those with a father within the same household.) Their main aim is to secure the release of as many of these minority prisoners as possible. Most criminals commit crimes against people of their own race, so with the release of hardened convicts into society, more minorities will become the victims of more crime.
The criminal justice reform advocates will claim that only “non-violent” convicts will be released. This shows a base ignorance of the way the system works. If a suspect pulls a gun, confronts a victim, demands money and then pistol whips the victim, that is an armed robbery with bodily injury. The victim may be so traumatized that he or she is reluctant to testify or the prosecuting attorney may think that victim would make a poor witness. The suspect will be allowed to plea down to a lesser included offense, such as grand theft. He pleads guilty and is convicted, but grand theft by itself is a non-violent offense. So a violent criminal is convicted of a non-violent offense and is now eligible for an early release under many of these reform acts.
The reformists point to the fact that keeping convicts in prison and maintaining the prisons is costly. Releasing prisoners early and putting fewer people in prison saves taxpayer's money, as if saving taxpayer money is ever a concern for most politicians. These reforms may save the state money, but a higher price is paid by more victims in loss of lives, injuries and property. If history is any indicator, citizens are more than willing to vote for bond issues for more prison.
While some minor reforms in the criminal justice system should be addressed, this historical fact should always be kept in mind: Crime rates go down when more criminals are in prisons.