(/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/03/dd.jpg)Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and a number of right-libertarian groups have joined together with the ACLU and the Center for American Progress to form The Coalition for Public Safety. Headed by Obama’s former associate director of legislative affairs for Drug Control Policy, the Coalition seeks to lower prison populations through ‘soft on crime’ reforms. Its libertarian partners argue that spending on the criminal justice system is out of control and that it’s time to go easy on some criminals.
While spending on the criminal justice system is high, this is due to the extreme regulatory burdens created by lawyers and judges as well as by the uncontrolled immigration supported by Norquist and some other members of the left-right coalition. A genuine conservative prison reform policy would speed up executions, cut public defender entitlements and slash immigration from high crime countries.
It is these immigration policies that have led to sharp crime increases in states like Utah. Reformers argue that Utah’s prison population growing 258 percent from 1982 to 2007 is a sign of overcriminalization. But around the same Utah’s foreign born population grew from 3 percent to 8.3 percent. Utah’s demographics are changing and its majority minority prison population reflects that.
Maine has one of the lowest crime and incarceration rates in the country. It also has a foreign born population below 5 percent. The price of cheap labor is very expensive crime. If you want a cheap day laborer, you have to be willing to spend millions keeping him in prison after he robs a liquor store.
The Coalition claims that the problem is the incarceration of non-violent offenders. Right on Crime, another member of the ACLU/CAP/Norquist coalition, calls for “prison alternatives” for non-violent offenders. One of its recent push polls urges probation for first time offenders.
Like amnesty, these “reforms” are being sold with misleading claims about enforcement first. A Coalition whose goal is helping criminals has not come together for “Public Safety”. Public safety is served by locking criminals up, not by setting them loose. Nor has the ACLU ever been interested in public safety.
The agenda is spun with misleading claims about the non-violent offender which imply that he’s just some poor kid caught smoking pot.
The first thing to understand about the myth of the non-violent offender is that he isn’t necessarily non-violent. Prosecutors reduce charges in plea deals that allow violent offenders to plead to non-violent offenses. Alternatively a violent offender may not have actually hurt or threatened anyone.
Burglary, for example, may or may not be a violent crime, depending on the state and depending on whether anyone was on the premises. Weapons possessions also, may or may not be a violent crime. On the other hand election fraud and child neglect are considered violent offenses in some jurisdictions.
A non-violent offender might have broken into a home while carrying a gun. A violent offender might have left his kids in the car.
The term doesn’t tell you that one is safe and that the other is a danger to society. Selling reforms based on it creates a misleading comfort level that is not warranted by how the system actually works.
The Bureau of Justice found that a third of non-violent offenders had a history of arrests for violent crimes. 95% had been arrested in the past. 8% had used a weapon during their offense.
The non-violent offender is still a career criminal. Often a violent one.
The reform pitch focuses on non-violent offenders convicted of drug offenses, but the majority of these non-violent offenders, 1 in 5, had been convicted of drug trafficking.
We’re being sold the myth of prisons filled with innocent minority kids whose only crime was being caught with a joint. The prisons are actually a revolving door for drug dealers. There are cases of unjust sentences, but for the most part the book is being thrown at the people it ought to be thrown at.
Only 4 percent of the inmates in state prisons are there for drug possession. 12 percent are there for manufacturing, trafficking and selling drugs.
What is really on the table is making life easier for drug dealers. This is not about a kid smoking a joint in a corner. This is about the drug dealing that led to an epidemic and nationwide support for a crackdown.
Just as with amnesty, the left side of the partnership is more honest about the endgame than the right. It is willing to talk openly about drug dealers as non-violent offenders and about the impossibility of significantly lowering the prison population numbers without freeing violent criminals. The libertarians meanwhile offer soothing nonsense about non-violent offenders camouflaged in ‘security first’ rhetoric.
They talk about vague “drug offenses” committed by “non-violent offenders” and “first-time offenders”. How could such harmless people possibly be dangerous? Surely it’s wrong to lock them up for life.
The ACLU’s profile of the kinds of non-violent offenders it thinks are wrongly locked up includes Jesse Webster, who was convicted of a conspiracy to distribute around 500 pounds of cocaine. Webster has become a cause célèbre for the left which is demanding that Obama commute his sentence.
Another non-violent offender, Robert E. Booker, ran a crack house and was caught with three assault rifles.
The ACLU describes them as “first-time offenders” and “non-violent offenders” when they were really dangerous drug dealers. The reforms it wants would help that harmless “first-time offender” selling millions in cocaine or the heavily armed “non-violent” criminal running a crack house.
“First-time offender”, like “non-violent offender”, is a misleading term that makes us think of a man who only made a single mistake. But the real mistake is falling for those misleading terms.
Are these the kinds of non-violent first-time offenders that conservatives are comfortable with freeing?
We’ve already tested the left’s crime theories in the past. They don’t work.
Being soft on crime destroys cities. It kills innocent people. The justice system isn’t perfect, but making common cause with the left-wing pro-crime lobby will take us back to a truly broken society.
There are no simple solutions to the problems we face and the reformers don’t have any to offer us. Instead they’re selling the same old liberal policies as fiscally conservative. While prison is expensive, having entire neighborhoods run by men like Booker and Webster is a lot more expensive. Having cities where the weekend begins with six shootings and ends with a full morgue is downright priceless.
The Democratic Party has become powerful through this way of life. Perpetuating it only plays into their hands and alienates potential voters who won’t see a difference between Republicans and Democrats because both seem to care more about illegal aliens and about criminals than about working Americans.
Conservatives have known this all along.
President Reagan said, “We do not seek to violate the rights of defendants. But shouldn’t we feel more compassion for the victims of crime than for those who commit crime?” Unleashing criminals isn’t compassionate. It’s the worst form of cruelty.
When Reagan talked about criminal justice reform, he meant putting away more criminals behind bars. He understood that to win, Republicans had to boldly talk about the real problems instead of launching yet another futile attempt to beat the left by adopting its agenda.
“We figured out how to deal with the crime problem,” Charles Murray wrote. “The key insight was a very old one; Lock ‘em up, as we have done in unprecedented numbers.”
The Coalition for Public Safety believes that’s a problem. The low crime rates say it’s a solution.
We’ve been down this road before. It doesn’t work. We don’t need prison reform. We need social reform. A society with values can reach bad men and prevent kids from turning into them. A society without values will instead romanticize them and fight for their freedom as if it were a moral cause.
The Republican Party cannot succeed if it forgets that it appeals to those Americans who believe in a nation of values. That too has been tried and it has failed. It is failing now all over again.
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