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Repackaging Soft on Crime

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The folks who want to repeat the sentencing mistakes of the 1960s are putting a lot of effort into the repackaging of old ideas.  Today the Constitution Project announced with great fanfare this report titled with the repackagers' favorite term, "Smart on Crime."  (Every con man tells you it would be smart to accept his deal, and you would be a fool to pass up the great opportunity.)

The bulk of the report is pro-thug.  The death penalty chapter proposes eviscerating AEDPA, the exact opposite of the change actually needed.  Astonishingly, the report asserts that "death sentences are disproportionately imposed on people of color."  In a debate with me on NPR on November 7, 2007, Constitution Project President Virginia Sloan said, "It's not the race of the defendant that is the major factor, and I don't think there are many studies that claim that."  Right.  The basis for the new, contrary assertion is our old friend, the Fallacy of the Irrelevant Denominator: "with African Americans comprising more than 40% of today's death-row inmates while constituting only 12% of the national population."  If you use the relevant denominator, murderers, there is no disproportion.

The first chapter is on overcriminalization and overfederalization, legitimate beefs that I have noted here before.  But they are fair-weather federalists.  They call for increased federal involvement in juvenile justice, an issue with little legitimate federal role.

The Constitution Project claims a "diverse coalition" for their soft-on-crime proposals.  Most of the coalition members listed on page vi are decidedly lefty, such as George Soros's Open Society Institute.  They also list Cato Institute, a libertarian organization allied with conservative free-marketers on economic issues but listing left on criminal law issues (even though they deny it).  Institute for Justice is similar.

Chapter 1 claims the Heritage Foundation as a contributor, and they do have a project on the overcriminalization and overfederalization issues, but Heritage is conspicuously missing from the coalition list on page vi.  We will try to clarify where Heritage stands on this.  I very much doubt they endorse the bulk of this report.

2 Comments

Can there be a slogan more annoying than "Smart on Crime"?

The funny thing is that you don't really need to be a rocket scientist when it comes to knowing what the right policies are. People who commit crimes like burglary, robbery etc. do it for a living. When you lock them up, you prevent untolled numbers of criminal acts. As for murderers, rapists and other violent criminals---incapacitation guarantees that society won't have to suffer their predations. Now of course, it's possible for a vicious rapist to change his ways after 10 or so years, but when you consider the damage caused by those who don't, light sentences given to such people are horribly cruel to innocent people.

Ginny Sloan and her ilk think nothing of impugning thousands of prosecutors, judges and jurors with her casual innuendo of racism. Funny that--a person who counts herself as more moral than the rest of us (as evidenced, of course, by her solicitousness towards thugs) will, in the cause of capital murderers smear those who dealt with their aftermath. Sloan should apologize.

“The bulk of the report is pro-thug”.

So much for civility and maturity.

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