The Failure of Progressive Criminal Justice Reforms
Over the past decade, radical prosecutors and progressive politicians have proposed and enacted illogical criminal justice policies, often without regard to the real effects of these ideas. Enough time has passed for an evidence-based assessment of how these policies have played out in the real world.
Firearm buybacks: Big-city politicians believe gun buy-back programs will reduce violent crime, which is rising in America’s urban centers. But extensive research shows no evidence that such programs work. Philadelphia just completed a three-year gun buyback program that produced over 1,000 guns. Not a single firearm recovered was linked to a violent crime, and during the program Philadelphia set new all-time homicide records. “It doesn’t reach the area of the community that has illegal firearms and uses them,” says criminologist Joseph Giacalone. “It’s political theater.”
“Violence Switches”: Progressive prosecutors present the switches of violence – former gang members and convicts who arbitrate disputes on the streets – as a serious weapon against crime. Cities run by “reform” prosecutors, such as Baltimore, Indianapolis and Philadelphia, have bet heavily on this idea. The results were not encouraging. Several violence switches have been murdered in Baltimore. In Indianapolis, the former convict responsible for training violence interrupters was arrested for threatening a woman and had to be fired. In Philadelphia, a violence switcher shot three people in a bar while working against violence. And a recent research paper indicates that violent interrupters, despite their difficult backgrounds, suffer from severe trauma, primarily because they are exposed to the kind of violence that police officers face every day (imagine that). The real question for violence interruption programs is whether they could add fuel to the flames of violent crime.
Decarceration: Liberal political groups like the Prison Policy Initiative, with the support of legal scholars, have railed against ‘mass incarceration’ in the United States for decades, claiming that the United States could release thousands of prisoners , even violent criminals, without affecting public safety . For their argument to have any meaning, they must push for the release of violent criminals because, as even the leading proponent of incarceration, John Pfaff, concedes, the vast majority of criminals are incarcerated for violent crimes. Proponents of decarceration have largely had their wishes granted. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2019 incarceration rates in America had fallen to the same level as in 1995, then were further reduced during the Covid-19 pandemic. How does it work? The United States saw its largest single-year increase in homicides in 2020, and murder rates continued to rise in 2021. Homicides in many cities have reached levels not seen since the 1990s, when incarceration rates were as low as they are now. The relationship between incarceration and violent crime is statistically complex, but the mass release of violent criminals further contributes to the increase in murders in American cities.
No cash deposit: Fair and Just Prosecution, a think tank for radical prosecutors, has long advocated a “no cash bail” policy, saying pretrial detention of people is simply a way to lock up the poor. In 2020, New York passed a law that dramatically reduced the state’s ability to detain even violent criminals after arrest. The resulting spike in violent crime by released defendants led even New York’s Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul to roll back this misguided reform in 2022, much to the relief of police and citizens alike. It turns out that detaining violent criminals between arrest and trial is vital to public safety. Who knew?
Cancellation of proceedings: From Alvin Bragg in Manhattan to George Gascón in Los Angeles to Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, the progressive prosecutor’s playbook hinges on a policy of de-prosecution, the decision not to prosecute crimes even when the facts and the evidence is sufficient to convict the defendants. The decision by prosecutors to effectively strike down criminal laws passed by state legislatures has had a disastrous effect on violent crime in major cities. A recent study using a synthetic control algorithm attributes 74 more homicides per year to the no-prosecution policy in Philadelphia, where prosecutions have dropped 70% for felonies and misdemeanors. The same methodology estimated 70 additional homicides per year in Baltimore and 169 additional homicides per year in Chicago, two other cities with prosecutors who are not prosecuting. Electing prosecutors to not enforce the law was as crazy as it sounds.
Fund the police: From members of “The Squad” in Congress to city councils across the United States, a powerful political movement has emerged to defund the police, based on the belief that law enforcement does more harm than good. Seattle tested that theory in 2020, when it declared part of the city a “police-free zone” after protests related to the death of George Floyd. Sophisticated analysis by professors Eric Piza and Nathan Connealy determined that the lack of police not only leads to an increase in violent crime in the police-free area – an unsurprising result – but also a ripple effect of crime in surrounding areas. from Seattle. On a broader level, highly respected researchers Aaron Chalfin and Justin McCrary conducted quantitative analysis demonstrating that, if anything, American cities are under-policed, and that adding more police would lead to both net savings and a reduction in violent crime, especially murder. In crude statistical terms, adding ten police officers to a department prevents one homicide per year in that jurisdiction. In fact, a strong case can be made that we are under-policed: the United States ranks in the bottom half of developed countries for the number of police officers per capita. Fortunately, the fundraising movement seems to be in retreat, as city residents see the appalling results and politicians scramble to adapt.
A curious but notable trend is developing in the study of crime. Law school professors have long been the main advocates of many of these progressive policies, but these legal scholars have little practical experience and are not bound by any real data, acting instead as an elite class of philosophers. professionals. However, a cohort of quantitative researchers is beginning to look at real crime data and publish the results, which often reveal that these policies not only don’t work, but also actively harm communities, especially those with the most residents. poor.
As each of these policies meets its predictable demise, some might wonder: what works, then? The answers to this question have been demonstrated clearly and comprehensively: empowering the police to protect law-abiding citizens. Arrest violent offenders, prosecute them vigorously and incapacitate them with severe penalties. And elect prosecutors who respect and enforce the law and who prioritize protecting law-abiding citizens, not violent criminals.
Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi used to start training camp every year by emphasizing the importance of fundamentals. He held up a pigskin and said, “Gentlemen, it’s a football. It’s time for the criminal justice system to get back to the basics of blocking and tackling.
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