Legislation aimed at reducing federally-mandated minimum prison sentences is expected to come up in Congress this week, and GOP leaders want to speed it through ASAP.
This may come as a surprise to anyone who thinks of the GOP as the party of law and order. Republicans have won several elections since the time of Richard Nixon thanks to their tough on crime image. Republicans were also instrumental in passing the mandatory minimum sentences in the 1980s and 1990s that are now destined for the chopping block. (RELATED: Law Enforcement: We Don’t Want Senate Sentencing Reform Bill)
Why the sudden change?
Some say it’s “just good policy.” But if instituting mandatory minimums was good policy two decades ago, why is it now good policy to do the opposite?
The primary reason for Republicans’ adopting criminal justice reform is not due to policy considerations. It’s due to the perception that it will make inroads into minority communities. The GOP is desperate to win over demographics that don’t vote red in November.
They also want to show that they can be bipartisan and pass legislation that all the smart people believe is the right thing to do. Granted, the bill currently being sped through the Senate with only one measly hearing is not as drastic as some supporters hoped it would be, except for the provision that allows it to apply retroactively.
But, similar to comprehensive immigration reform that all the elites loved and championed, criminal justice reform is another case of bipartisanship at its worst.
That’s largely due to its retroactive provision that would release thousands of drug offenders into a nation suffering with a stagnant economy, a rising crime wave and a growing hostility towards police.
Let’s first take a look at an example of micro-reform that’s occurred right in the nation’s capital during America’s present troubles with law and order.
The District of Columbia recently proposed reforms that encourage lenient treatment of parolees and more catch-and-releases of petty criminals. However, crime has skyrocketed in Washington and one of its worst recent murders was committed by a man who was just let go a day earlier after gettingarrested for assaulting a pedestrian and a cop. (RELATED: The Horrifying Details Of The Independence Day Train Stabbing In DC)
The number of slayings had already reached last year’s total by August and city officials are flailing about searching for a solution to the rising tide of violence — even though police union officials put the blame squarely on the elimination of valuable vice squads. (RELATED: DC Police Union Blasts Chief For Ineffective Crime Fighting Techniques)
And D.C. isn’t alone in seeing its crime rise, which is largely due to cities all over the country scaling back effective police measures on behalf of political pressure. America as a whole is witnessing a sharp rise in its murder rate and it doesn’t look like that bloody trend will subside anytime soon.
Several articles in favor of criminal justice reform, such as this particular article in The Atlantic, like to broadcast how nobody knows what really caused a sharp downgrade in crime over the years. This observation is stated in order to obfuscate the possibility that mandatory minimums — which positively correlate with declining crime rates — had anything to do with the significant drop. However, tough police tactics are always cited as one of the contributing factors in decreasing crime — and those measures are also on the chopping block.
Here’s the thing to ask about criminal justice reform: What are the long-term consequences of letting out thousands of felons in the middle of a stagnant economy and rising crime wave? Advocates prefer to ignore that question.
Instead, they like to imagine the best case scenario will certainly happen. Crime will magically continue to drop, all the convicts will become successful computer programmers overnight and Republicans will win more minority votes all thanks to bipartisan criminal justice reform.
But how are these (hopefully) reformed criminals going to find jobs in an economy where low-skilled workers, particularly minority workers, face historically-bad employment opportunities? How are they going to find work when many of our political leaders want to send the thousands of blue collar jobs overseas and continue to import illegal labor to replace citizen labor?
That is not saying that we should keep people locked up simply because there are no jobs for them. But if there are no jobs for these offenders, then they are far more likely to go back to a life of crime. This fact has to be kept in mind when discussing the wonders of letting out inmates with few job skills back into the general population.
The next problem is the nationwide trend of reduced police presence in urban areas. As already mentioned, several cities, like Baltimore and Washington, are seeing a serious uptick in crime after implementing measures that softened the police force. The Black Lives Matter movement hasn’t been sated and is demanding even more supposed reforms to curtail alleged police injustices.
It would be one thing if we were discussing criminal justice reform in an economy that offered numerous opportunities for low-skilled workers and we were dedicated to effective policing. But those two factors aren’t apparent here.
What we are witnessing is an obvious convergence of catastrophes that our leaders view as a concurrence of rainbows and sunshine. Crime is rising and real unemployment is still at record highs. Releasing more criminals into this environment and expecting a positive result is the epitome of naivete.
We’re also trusting liberal judges — the fiends of the typical conservative imagination — to make the right calls when it comes to sentencing criminals. The reason why mandatory minimums were popular is that it took away power from a profession that is notorious for going against the interests of the people they’re supposed to serve.
There is nothing conservative in giving more power to bleeding heart judges to let hardened criminals off with slaps on the wrists. (RELATED: Contest: What Will The GOP Cave On Next?)
Additionally, it is highly unlikely that Republicans will be rewarded electorally for this measure. Democrats are all for it and have spearheaded the effort to pass reform. [crscore]Rand Paul[/crscore], the Republican figurehead when it comes to reform on this issue and the one who’s done the most outreach in minority communities on the issue, is polling dismally among minorities.
Like amnesty, criminal justice reform appears to be another fatal fruit prepared by Democrats for unwitting Republicans.
Yes, it might make short-term fiscal sense to reduce the current prison flow. But there’s a tremendous cost if it results in an escalation of crime. Not only does crime harm the lives of law-abiding citizens, it also hurts local economies and forces many residents to move away.
There’s no worse time to enact criminal justice reform than now — unless we all have a nihilistic wish to turn every city into the New York City of “Taxi Driver.” Republicans should not be fooled by the misleading feelings of bipartisanship and look out for the long-term best interests of the American public.
Otherwise, they can look forward to the dark days when America wishes mandatory minimums were still in set in stone.