The 'War on Crime' has failed. Here's a better battle plan

Since President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Crime” in 1965, politicians have been embracing tough-on-crime policies every election cycle. Unfortunately, this has exacted a horrific toll. The U.S. crime rate has never fallen below 1965 levels, and the incarceration rate now approaches that of North Korea.

What 50 years of uninterrupted bipartisan tough-on-crime policies have produced is a 16 percent higher crime rate, a near doubling of violent crime, and thousands of murders.

The population equivalent of Houston is behind bars, while the public is less safe than a half-century ago. Lady Justice has cast her scales aside in disgust and fallen on her sword.

Despite a dismal track-record, these policies have taken hold in a sizable contingent of Americans who ascribe to the Sherriff Joe Arpaio school of corrections, which conflates “tough-on-crime” with being tough on the criminal. Their logic follows that since crime is bad, criminals are bad and should be punished, and therefore harsher punishment will solve crime.

Most nonviolent offenses are for crimes related to untreated drug addiction or mental illness. Incarceration does nothing for either affliction, while treatments that produce better long-term outcomes at a fraction of the cost are withheld.

These law-and-order types see highly effective methods of rehabilitation as “soft” if they are insufficiently punitive.

That’s just wrong. The National Institute of Justice’s statistics show that over two-thirds of ex-convicts are rearrested within five years. Crime is disproportionately recidivistic in nature, making successful rehabilitation the single most effective crime fighting measure.

Tough-on-crime policies only work in dealing with violent offenders whose release poses a threat to society. However, 1.3 million Americans – over half the nation’s prisoners – are behind bars for non-violent offenses.

Of these, 296,000 have not even been convicted of a crime. Yet despite officially being presumed innocent, they sit in jail awaiting trial, unable to afford bail.

Most nonviolent offenses are for crimes related to untreated drug addiction or mental illness. Incarceration does nothing for either affliction, while treatments that produce better long-term outcomes at a fraction of the cost are withheld. Current policy is both a humanitarian and fiscal disgrace.

At the core of the rot is a corrupt plea bargain system. An accused person faces a Sophie’s Choice: to paraphrase the innocent and maliciously prosecuted CEO-cum-justice-reform-advocate Howard Root, plead guilty or be destroyed before you get to trial.

Those who proceed to trial can look forward to a pre-emptive finding of guilt in the court of public opinion (by prosecutorial design), twice as harsh a sentence if convicted than if they plead guilty, and bankrupting legal fees – all for a 5 percent chance of exoneration.

As Mark Steyn describes, “the process is the punishment” and innocent people plead guilty (often on advice of counsel) to avoid that process with greater frequency than we in a society of laws should abide in good conscience.

Fanatical prosecutors use any means necessary to achieve a conviction, routinely contorting the plea system to manufacture evidence. Conducting a boundless fishing expedition, they dredge up some unrelated statutory violation committed by some figure peripheral to their target.

Given the sprawling criminal code and vast prosecutorial dragnet, they always turn up something, which is used to terrorize the peripheral figure into “flipping” on the primary target. They exchange a guaranty against prosecution for the dredged-up infraction for suborned, veraciously agnostic testimony, provided it leads to a conviction.

This textbook tactic of effectively planting evidence is protected by the wink, nod and wall of silence adhered to by most prosecutors and their ex-prosecutor cohorts on the bench.

President Trump’s economic policies hold the promise of a positive and lasting impact on crime. Economic and job growth will spur demand for labor, while stricter immigration policies would cut the supply of illegal workers.

The law of supply and demand will drive wage growth and incentivize greater labor force participation.

Studies show the most important predictor of successful reintegration of prisoners is the ability to find employment upon release. Prison-to-work job placement programs consistently reaffirm this, reporting precipitous declines in recidivism rates among participants.

With the implementation of mandatory E-Verify, those employing the 8 million illegals working in the U.S. will have to change their hiring practices. Facing unmet labor needs, they are apt to start giving parolees a chance.

When America’s 1.3 million non-violent offenders are released, historical recidivism rates imply over a million will return to a life of crime. However, the economic drivers of President Trump’s agenda will make it easier than ever for them to find work.

Within this roaring economic backdrop, hundreds of thousands of Americans – mostly people of color – will be freed from the revolving door in and out of jails and prisons. That averted wastage of human potential and public money will be a giant leap toward making America great again.


James Black is a Canadian financial executive and conservative political commentator.

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