It is interesting that the serious discourse on issues pertaining to crime has largely shifted from “law and order conservatives” vs “soft on crime liberals” to moderates vs leftists.
And why we can fight crime without mass incarceration.
Over the last two decades, progressives came to a new consensus on crime. Nonviolent felonies like shoplifting and drug possession should be reclassified as misdemeanours. Cities should defund the police and spend the money on nurses, psychologists and social workers instead. And offenders should have minimal involvement with the justice system — and be kept out of jail wherever possible.
But now, rising crime is rapidly undermining the progressive consensus. Homicides rose 30% in 2020, and over two-thirds of America’s largest cities will have had even more homicides in 2021 than in 2020. At least 13 big cities will set all-time records for homicides, including Philadelphia, Austin, and Portland. Meanwhile property crimes in California’s four largest cities rose 7% between 2020 and 2021. Car break-ins in San Francisco declined temporarily in 2020, because Covid emptied the city of tourists, but they have since skyrocketed, reaching 3,000 in November. Many residents have stopped bothering to report crime.
Of course, many crime rates are still below what they were in the Eighties. And progressives are right to say that we shouldn’t panic about rising crime, since past panics contributed to cruel and crude responses, including overly long prison sentences with little in the way of real rehabilitation programmes. That’s why, in the late Nineties, I worked for George Soros’s foundation, among others, advocating for drug decriminalisation, reduced sentences for nonviolent crimes, and alternatives to incarceration.
Today it’s clear that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. In 2000, when I stopped working on criminal justice policy, progressives were advocating mandatory rehabilitation as an alternative to incarceration. Now, progressive prosecutors are simply releasing criminal suspects from custody without requiring rehab or extended probation. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for instance, a man who had run over the mother of his child with his SUV was released on $1,000 bail. Neither he nor his SUV were put under electronic surveillance. Soon after, he killed six people and injured another three dozen — by running them over with his SUV.