Monday, February 20, 2017

Towards a World of Better-Trained, Angrier Criminals

There is this mythology among too many “law and order” conservatives that coming down hard on just about any level of possibly criminal activity will make us safer. That certainly is the assumption behind the Trump administration’s perspective on crime in America. Does anyone genuinely believe that making undocumented residents in the inner city afraid to talk to police or turn in offenders for fear of deportation make the relevant cities safer? Further, by now, anyone with the slightest willingness to look at statistics can tell you, our war on drugs has been a rather total failure.
Those old three-strikes laws and ever-lengthening prisons sentences (the longest on earth) didn’t make us safer as the total costs of incarceration soared well-past merely unaffordable. Fiscal conservatives, even the Koch brothers, are increasingly moving towards advocating more realistic, shorter sentences and trying to shunt offenders (particularly those charged with drug possession crimes) into alternative programs. Add a criminal conviction to a person’s record, and their ability to make a living plunges, their likelihood to resort to criminal sources of income rises and the spending time in the best crime schools in the world (our prison/jail system) become our reward for that mistaken effort. We simply created more criminals at great and permanent social cost.
But as part of Donald Trump’s overall effort to move the United States back to an earlier era, “Mr. Trump has shifted the focus from civil rights to law and order, from reducing incarceration to increasing sentences, from goading the police to improve to protecting them from harm. Last week, he swore in a new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has said that the government has grown ‘soft on crime,’ and helped block a bipartisan bill to reduce sentences. Mr. Sessions said that a recent uptick in crime in some major cities is a ‘dangerous, permanent trend,’ a view that is not supported by federal crime data, which shows crime remains near historical lows.
“The president signed executive orders that repeatedly connected public safety to immigration violations, vowing to fight international crime cartels; to set up a task force to ‘comprehensively address illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime’; and to focus on preventing violence to peace officers.” New York Times, February 13th. Some might think that law enforcement officers are overwhelmingly supportive of this change, but think again.
“[P]rominent police chiefs and prosecutors who fear that the new administration is out of step with evidence that public safety depends on building trust, increasing mental health and drug addiction treatment, and using alternatives to prosecution and incarceration.
“We need not use arrest, conviction and prison as the default response for every broken law,” Ronal W. Serpas, a former police chief in Nashville and New Orleans, and David O. Brown, a former Dallas chief, wrote in a report [FIGHTING CRIME AND STRENGTHENING CRIMINAL JUSTICE: An Agenda for the New Administration] released [in the first week of February] by a leading law enforcement group. ‘For many nonviolent and first-time offenders, prison is not only unnecessary from a public safety standpoint, it also endangers our communities.”
“The organization, the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, is made up of more than 175 police officials and prosecutors, including Charlie Beck, Los Angeles’s police chief; Cyrus R. Vance Jr., Manhattan’s district attorney; and William J. Bratton, the former police chief in New York and Los Angeles. Other leading law enforcement groups have also called for an increase in mental health and drug treatment, a focus on the small number of violent offenders who commit the most crimes, training officers on the appropriate use of force, and retooling practices to reflect a growing body of evidence that common practices, such as jailing people before trial on minor offenses, can actually lead to an increase in crime.” NY Times. Depends on whether you prefer catchy slogans that, on any closer analysis, clearly do not work, or implementing governmental policies that actually cost less and make us safer.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I wonder how our political decisions would improve if we actually applied common sense based on hard, empirical facts.

No comments: