Bill O’Reilly and Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers clashed over the efficacy of America’s criminal justice system on Tuesday, with the Fox News host urging the imprisonment of around 10 percent of the population — “only selected, very bad people” — in order to extend the long-term decline of crime in the United States.
O’Reilly was reacting to a New York Times editorial “demanding” an end to the large-scale imprisonment of vast swathes of the population. At current levels, 2.2 million Americans — roughly 1 in 100 adults — are incarcerated, a precipitous drop from 2005-2006 but still the highest reported rate in the world.
Over half of these individuals are in jail for nonviolent, often drug-related crimes, with many being locked up for life due to arbitrary “three strikes” laws that can put someone away for life even if they commit a minor offense.
But “The O’Reilly Factor” host thinks that a decline in the prison population will lead to a rapid increase in crime, and slammed the “uber-liberal” Times for advocating such a measure.
“With victories in the gay marriage arena and legalized pot, the left is turning its attention to changing the criminal justice system,” he said. “The opinion piece says the USA is putting too many people in prison, but not ONCE did this editorial mention the victims of crime. Not once!”
But Powers pushed back on O’Reilly’s thesis. “Well, first of all, it’s not just liberals who are concerned about this,” she noted. “There are conservatives who are concerned about it. Newt Gingrich, in particular, is somebody who has spoken with the problems with mass incarceration in the country. So I don’t think we have to say this is just a liberal issue.”
“For you to quote the fact that the violent crime rate has dropped as somehow evidence of ‘We don’t have a problem’ doesn’t make any sense to me,” she continued, noting that most of the discussion revolved around “people who have been thrown in jail for 15 to 25 years for selling two ounces of marijuana.”
“Ok, that never happens,” O’Reilly replied. “If you can cite –”
“Are you kidding me?” Powers responded incredulously. “You don’t think under the Rockefeller drug laws people have been put in jail for that long? Under the Rockefeller drug laws, that’s the law, Bill! I’m sorry!”
“But that never happens,” O’Reilly interrupted, “you plea everything down.”
“That is astonishing,” Powers claimed.
Fox contributor Monica Crowley tried to walk a middle ground between the two points, but O’Reilly and Powers continued to disagree.
“I say, there are only selected, very bad people who hurt other people — maybe ten percent of the population,” O’Reilly explained. “You isolate them, you take them off the streets, and then the crime rate comes down.”
“But you don’t buy that,” he asked Powers — setting off another yell fest between the two talking heads.
Eventually Powers got a word in. “It’s a national trend,” she said, referencing the country-wide reduction in crime. “And for you to try to pretend that it’s just because you’re putting all these people in jail is not correct.”
“The more people you take off the streets, the less crime there is,” O’Reilly asserted. “And that is irrefutable.”