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Republicans a victim of safer streets

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WaPo editorial writer Charles Lane has this article with the above title.

Americans were unhappy about many issues as 2012 began. In one area, though, contentment reigned. By a margin of 50 to 45 percent, a Gallup Poll reported, the public felt "satisfied" with the nation's policies on crime.

It was a well-founded sentiment. In 2010, Americans were less than a third as likely to be victimized by violent crime as they had been in 1994; the murder rate had declined by roughly half. Today we are approaching the low murder rates of the 1950s.

For the Republican Party, this is a triumph -- and a disaster, as the 2012 election results proved.

It is a GOP triumph, because the enormous decline in crime over the past two decades coincided with the widespread adoption of such conservative ideas as "broken windows" policing and mandatory minimum sentences.

Whether such policies actually caused the crime decline is a separate, and much-debated, social-science question. The important thing is that many people believe that they did. As a result, conservative crime doctrine remains dominant in politics, with the two parties differing mainly over how to control and punish unlawful conduct most cost-effectively.

I agree with most of that, but I'm not so sure about the last sentence.  The great danger at present is that "tough on crime" is a political victim of its own success.  With crime rates way down, at least in part because of tough policies, too many people are falling for the claims that we can not merely be more cost-effective but rather go all the way back to the failed notions of the 60s that were such a disaster.  Too many people swoon over "evidence-based practices" of rehabilitation and fail to be sufficiently skeptical about "evidence" put forward by people with an ideological or financial interest in seeing the result come out a particular way.

In California, this danger has taken the form of the "realignment" program.  Too many people fell for the false claim that our prisons were chock full of harmless people locked up for possessing one joint, and we could move them to overcrowded county jails (with the inevitable result of many being moved to the street) with no increased danger to the public.  We are paying for this delusion in the blood of innocent people.  Yet public awareness has not caught up with reality yet, and the people rewarded the perpetrators of this scam by increasing their political power.

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