This is a decent enough article as far as it goes, but it fails to address the real elephant in the room, i.e. that mass incarceration results from too many laws and the overly broad definition of “crime.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a collaborative series with the R Street Institute exploring conservative approaches to criminal justice reform.
Conservatism is not a monolith. There is no one way to be a conservative, think like a conservative, or define the conservative outlook. But there are certain bedrock principles of those on the Right: limited government, economic responsibility, and a belief that our Founding Fathers laid out sacrosanct rights in our Constitution. A firm belief in the importance of family, morality, and, for some, faith has generally guided the application of these principles. While no party can represent the whole of conservatism, the Republican Party’s role as the dominant right-of-center force in modern American politics makes it a good place to take ideological temperatures on the Right.
It is interesting to consider that both liberals and conservatives are constantly claiming that society is going completely down the tubes, with liberals insisting this is due to the availability of guns or the proliferation of hate crimes and public shootings, and conservatives insisting the problem is family breakdown and lack of morals. In reality, crime rates have been declining for decades.
By Adam Gelb and Jacob Denny
Pew Research Center
After peaking in 2008, the nation’s imprisonment rate fell 11 percent over eight years, reaching its lowest level since 1997, according to an analysis of new federal statistics by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The decline from 2015-16 was 2 percent, much of which was due to a drop in the number of federal prisoners. The rate at which black adults are imprisoned fell 4 percent from 2015-16 and has declined 29 percent over the past decade. The ongoing decrease in imprisonment has occurred alongside long-term reductions in crime. Since 2008, the combined national violent and property crime rate dropped 23 percent, Pew’s analysis shows.
Also since that 2008 peak, 36 states reduced their imprisonment rates, including declines of 15 percent or more in 20 states from diverse regions of the country, such as Alaska, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Connecticut. During the same period, almost every state recorded a decrease in crime with no apparent correlation to imprisonment.
Tom Woods interviews Professor William Anderson joins to discuss the perverse incentives in the American legal system that work against the accused and their ability to fight back against abuses and outrages perpetrated against them.
The state always needs a moral panic to justify the expansion of its own power. Gay rights are now mainstream, marijuana legalization is moving rapidly, sanctuary cities are resisting immigration enforcement, skepticism of the drug war is growing, support for criminal justice reform is expanding, and protests against police brutality are now common. In other words, the state is losing many of its tools for self-expansion. This is one reason why political correctness is increasingly becoming incorporated into the state’s ideological framework, and why we are likely to see “traditional” cultural groups (i.e. gun owners, religious traditionalists, conservative whites, etc). becoming increasingly under attack in the future. However, the Red Tribe continues to be a major player in US politics, and currently controls all three branches of the federal government, plus a majority of state governments, even if the Red Tribe is losing ground and does not reflect majority opinion per se. Therefore, the state needs yet another target. Just in the nick of time, here comes hysteria over sex trafficking. Sex trafficking hysteria is becoming the new war on drugs, with the predictable bipartisan enthusiasm in the mainstream, and acquiescence on the part of much of the Left, as there was with the war on drugs. In the future, there will be a sex workers rights movement similar to the gay rights and marijuana legalization movements.
This would seem to go against the general trend toward marijuana legalization, skepticism of the “war on drugs” and support for “criminal justice reform” generally. It’s also interesting how after 50 years of the “war on drugs,” there are now more drugs, more powerful drugs, and more drug overdoses than ever before. In the future, the Trump era will probably be regarded as Reagan-era “conservatism”‘s last stand.
By Matt Laslo
Don’t let all the chaos and scandals of the Trump administration distract you from one of their most stunning successes: They’ve utterly changed the conversation in Washington when it comes to drug crimes. While a few prominent voices on Capitol Hill continue to call for doing away with mandatory minimum prison sentences, there’s a new bill being pushed by top Trump allies inside the Capitol to actually extend mandatory minimums to more fentanyl dealers and to eventually even apply the death penalty in some cases.
“It’s not just that it’s so potent, but it’s also that it’s so concentrated. So, it poses a unique risk in the way that other drugs do not,” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) told reporters when he unveiled his bill at the Capitol.
This Larry Krasner guy sounds too good to be true. But if he’s for real, I suppose it would be an illustration of the possibility of “reform within the system.” The idea that virtually any jurisdiction in the United States comes even remotely close to being “soft on crime” is nonsense. The USA has the distinction of being a First World nation with a Third World “criminal justice system” (a misnomer), and that’s being charitable. The legal systems of plenty of underdeveloped countries are no worse than those of the USA.
By Larry Platt
The Philadelphia Citizen
Make no mistake about it: We’re ground zero in a revolution, an epochal moment that asks—without necessarily answering—big questions: What is crime? What is punishment? What makes up our social contract? Throughout the country, funded by billionaire George Soros, a new breed of District Attorney has been taking the reins of power; when former public defender Mark Gonzalez, who has the words “Not Guilty” tattooed across his chest, was elected District Attorney in 2016 in Nueces County, Texas, it was a harbinger of sweeping change. The lines in our adversarial justice system were blurring. You could see it in our D.A. race last year, when ultimate victor Larry Krasner swung the debate leftward and suddenly those running to be our chief law enforcement officer sounded like they were seeking to become our Public Defender In Chief.
Now that Krasner, a lifelong defense and civil rights attorney who sued the Philadelphia police force some 75 times, is three months into his rocky tenure, it’s become clear that the revolution is upon us and that Krasner has become its poster boy. I’ve spent a good part of the last few weeks talking to former and current prosecutors, as well as police and victims. And let me tell you: They’re freaking out. They see Krasner as an existential threat; he’d say he is a threat—to the status quo of an unjust system. They counter that he’s ultimately a threat to safety on our streets.
It is interesting how the state always seeks to capitalize on whatever moral panics are going on at the present time. The biggest moral panics at present are arguably illegal immigration (for the Red Tribe), guns (for the Blue Tribe), opioids and “sex trafficking” (for both tribes). Immigrants are generally included under the umbrella of the Blue Tribe, and gun owners under the umbrella of the Red Tribe, and therefore have certain shields available. But drug users (except pot heads) and sex workers are not included in either tribe and therefore among the most easy targets for the state.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. law enforcement agencies have seized the sex marketplace website Backpage.com as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a posting on the Backpage website on Friday.
I suspect Trump and Sessions’ latest efforts to throw a bone to their redneck “base” will likely fail, and potentially backfire given that the general trend is toward liberalization of both drug and criminal justice police.
By Matt Ford
The New Republic
In a speech Monday in Manchester, New Hampshire, President Donald Trump enthusiastically backed capital punishment as a tool to fight the opioid epidemic. “If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we are wasting our time,” he said. “And that toughness includes the death penalty.” Now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying to put Trump’s call into practice.
In one-page memo dated Tuesday, Sessions instructed U.S. attorneys nationwide to be more aggressive when prosecuting any drug-related crimes. In addition to the usual tools available to federal prosecutors, he urged them to consider “the pursuit of capital punishment in appropriate cases.” To that end, he noted a few specific federal offenses where Congress already authorized the death penalty as a punishment.
“I strongly encourage federal prosecutors to use these statutes, when appropriate, to aid in our continuing fight against drug trafficking and the destruction it causes,” Sessions wrote.
An interesting example of modest but potentially genuine reform from “within the system.”
By Shaun King
When lifelong civil rights attorney Larry Krasner was elected in a landslide this past November to become the new district attorney of Philadelphia, to say that his fans and supporters had high hopes would be an understatement. Anything less than a complete revolution that tore down the bigoted and patently unfair systems of mass incarceration would be a severe disappointment.
Across the country, talking the talk of criminal justice reform has gotten many people elected as DA. Once in office, their reforms have often been painfully slow and disappointing. Krasner was the first candidate elected who publicly committed not just to intermittent changes, but a radical overhaul.
So far, having been in office less than three months, he has exceeded expectations. He’s doing something I’ve never quite seen before in present-day politics: Larry Krasner’s keeping his word — and it’s a sight to behold.
“However unwilling a person who has a strong opinion may be to admit that his opinion might be false, he ought to be moved by this thought: however true it may be, if it isn’t fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma rather than as a living truth. ”
John Stuart Mill
The First Amendment guarantees that the “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of people peaceably to assemble”. This provision clarifies the point that the government cannot pass a law criminalizing the act of free expression. However, certain spoken statements could constitute an act of violence, provided they can be regarded as a root cause of violence against others.
Author’s note: This is not an attempt to debunk a Harvard professor’s 800 page book with a 900 word article from an underground WordPress Blog. The decline in violence is obvious, and it is over centuries, but the causes of violence are still with us.
Most research shows that we live in a far more peaceful time than previous periods in human history. It’s a complicated topic with a lot of incomplete data for a massively huge period of examination, but the current conventional wisdom follows from Dr. Pinker’s study of the long decline in violence, “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” I agree with Pinker’s specific argument that violence has declined generally, and Pinker does save for a break from the typical 10 o’clock news run about how you might get stabbed to death by some Sureños while walking to your car at night.
This would be comical if it wasn’t so pathetic. A coalition of Republican luminaries admits that the police state and its related features are actually a problem. The list of signatories to this group’s manifesto includes many who were involved in creating the police state in the first place. The monster they helped create is now coming back to actually attack those whom they like rather than those whom they hate.
THE ISSUE. Thousands of harmless activities are now classified as crimes in the United States. These are not typical common law crimes such as murder, rape, or theft. Instead they encompass a series of business activities such as importing orchids without the proper paperwork, shipping lobster tails in plastic bags, and even failing to return a library book. There are over 4,000 existing federal criminal laws. (The exact number of laws is unknown because the attorneys at Congressional Research Service who were assigned to count them ran out of resources before they could complete the herculean task.)
In addition to the profusion of federal statutory crimes, there are additional state crimes (Texas alone has over 1,700), and federal regulatory offenses (approximately 300,000). The creation of these often unknowable and redundant crimes, the federalization of certain crimes traditionally prosecuted at the state level, and the removal of traditional mens rea requirements all contribute to a relentless trend known as overcriminalization.
THE IMPACT. Significant differences between criminal and civil law make criminal law an overly blunt instrument for regulating non-fraudulent business activities. Whereas administrative rulemaking and civil proceedings may utilize a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the conduct at issue, no such balancing occurs in criminal proceedings because, theoretically, criminal law covers only those activities that are inherently wrong.
Also, because criminal law is enforced entirely by state prosecution, it tends to minimize the role of the victim. Indeed, the prototypical “regulatory” offense does not include anyone actually being harmed as an element of the offense. Finally, civil and criminal law have traditionally been distinguished by the requirement that a criminal must have a guilty state of mind. An increasing number of regulatory offenses nevertheless dispense with this requirement or require mere criminal negligence rather than intentional, knowing, or reckless conduct.
Looking forward to a future when federal agents monitor Tinder? We won’t be far off if some folks in Congress get their way.
Under a proposal from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–Va.), anyone posting or hosting digital content that leads to an act of prostitution could face serious federal prison time as well as civil penalties. This is obviously bad news for sex workers, but it would also leave digital platforms—including dating apps, social media, and classifieds sites such as Craigslist—open to serious legal liability for the things users post.
In effect, it would give government agents more incentive and authority to monitor sex-related apps, ads, forums, and sites of all sorts. And it would give digital platforms a huge incentive to track and regulate user speech more closely.
Goodlatte’s measure was offered as an amendment to another House bill, this one from the Missouri Republican Ann Wagner. The House Judiciary Committee will consider both bills on Tuesday.
Wagner’s legislation (H.R. 1865) would open digital platforms to criminal and civil liability not just for future sex crimes that result from user posts or interactions but also for past harms brokered by the platforms in some way. So platforms that followed previous federal rules (which encouraged less content moderation in order to avoid liability) would now be especially vulnerable to charges and lawsuits.
The bill currently has 171 co-sponsors, including ample numbers of both Republicans and Democrats.
William Fears, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi from Houston who is holding the flag, clashes with a counterprotester at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)
Charlottesville residents criticized the review of the city’s handling of the white supremacist rally in August, saying that it focused on the technicalities of the response but failed to discuss underlying racism.
Residents and officials packed a council meeting Monday evening, where former U.S. attorney Timothy Heaphy presented the findings of the independent review, which sharply criticized the police department for lacking the proper training and preparation to respond to the violent rally. At the first meeting since the report was publicly released Friday, residents expressed their anger and frustration with city officials and police.
A summary of the findings of the investigation conducted by a private law firm commissioned by the city of Charlottesville. Assuming this summary is accurate, the findings are fairly consistent with my own observations about Charlottesville.
By Gregory Hood
Independent report makes an honest effort to find out.
The law firm of Hunton & Williams has just issued an independent, 207-page report on the Unite the Right protest that took place in Charlottesville last August. The city of Charlottesville commissioned and paid for the report, but it is no cover up. It is a slashing indictment of the way the city prepared for and handled the demonstrations. It is a thorough vindication of the perspective of the Unite the Right demonstrators.
The report makes clear that the Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) and its black chief, Al Thomas, had no intention of allowing the demonstration to take place. Astonishingly, the report leaves no doubt that Chief Thomas wanted the police to let enough violence go unchecked to justify an order to declare the event an “unlawful assembly” and shut it down. The report is also unflinching in its condemnation of police and city-administration bungling that virtually guaranteed continued violence even after the event was canceled.