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When You Have No Other Argument, Just Lie, Part II

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Kent recently noted the numerous and flagrant fabrications by an organization supporting a version of California "sentencing reform."  In the News Scan entry just before his, CJLF's staff discussed the legal settlement Rolling Stone magazine had been forced to cough up as a result of its wonderfully detailed fabrication of a rape at the University of Virginia. The made-up rapists were made-up white males.

That same day, I read a short introduction to a new book, "From Retribution to Public Safety: Disruptive Innovation of American Criminal Justice."  Its first paragraph asserts:

Over the past fifty years, American criminal justice policy has had a nearly singular focus -- the relentless pursuit of punishment.  Punishment is intuitive, proactive, logical, and simple. But the problem is that despite all of the appeal, logic, and common sense, punishment doesn't work.  The majority of crimes committed in the United States are by people who have been through the criminal justice system before, many on multiple occasions.

A better example of mendacity displacing argument would be hard to conceive.
We could start with the fact that the principal objective of criminal justice policy over the past 50 years has been exactly what it is now, i.e., to reduce crime.  But that's a digression.  

The main attraction is authors' proposition two sentences later that "punishment doesn't work.".  

The proposition is not merely false, it's  --  excuse my language  --  nuts.

As the authors couldn't help knowing, increased punishment has worked to reduce crime with astounding success over the last generation.  (I have given the supporting statistics and scholarship many times, and will not repeat them here).  It's no exaggeration to say that increased incarceration, in particular, has prevented millions of crimes. Usually this fact is grudgingly admitted, or quietly mumbled or downplayed in some clever way by the sentencing reform contingent. That the authors of this book deny it outright is astonishing.

It's true, of course, that in the generation before the last 25 years (roughly the mid-1960's to about 1990), crime was on a tear.  That would be when incarceration was mostly viewed in the dim light the authors cast upon it, and the programs they support  --  less punitive approaches like rehab  --  were in vogue. Stern punishment didn't work because, far less than today, it wasn't tried.

Then there's the authors' statement that, "The majority of crimes committed in the United States are by people who have been through the criminal justice system before, many on multiple occasions."

While I'm glad to see for once that some of our pro-criminal friends admit the shocking extent of recidivism, the proposition as stated has three glaring flaws.

First, there is no way to know whether it's true, if it is. Since crime is vastly under-reported  -- especially middling property crimes, simple assault, sex crimes and drugs  --  there is no way to determine that the perpetrators have been through the system many times before, or at all.  Some may have been and some not.  Even if they have, there is insufficient information about whether they were treated with the harshness the authors decry or, as is more likely for relatively minor offenses, with short or non-existent jail terms and a stern lecture

Second, the authors seem blind to the fact that their premise (we suffer from rampant recidivism) not only fails to support, but affirmatively rebuts, their conclusion (we should shorten terms of imprisonment).  It requires less than ten seconds' thought to understand that, with a high recidivism rate, what will happen if we end incarceration earlier is that we'll have more crime faster. This is the opposite of what the authors say they'll deliver, but basic logic permits no other conclusion.

Third, they embrace what has become the signature blunder of progressives:  They think more government is the answer.  More doctors, more counselors, more psychologists, more social workers, etc., et al.

There's not a hint in their introduction of the one thing that might actually produce lower recidivism:  A more active conscience.

Part of the reason for their blindness is the transfixed, almost hypnotic gaze upon a powerful, feel-good-government.  The other part is the corresponding inability to conceptualize the criminal as a real, live human being  --  a person, a moral actor, who makes choices, learns from the consequences of those choices, and then can make better ones. Conscience cannot be created by the state, but it can be nourished by the state  --  but only if the state understands and respects the power of conscience, by seeing and building upon its capacity both for shame and, then, improvement.  

""From Retribution to Public Safety: Disruptive Innovation of American Criminal Justice" stands on its head the old maxim that we build from facts to knowledge and from knowledge to wisdom.  Starting with getting its facts wrong, it slides from there into a battle between dissembling and ignorance, the latter winning by a hair's breadth.

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