“October is Crime Prevention Month, and I am reminded that not long ago people spoke of the “Texas Model” as a purely punitive approach to criminal justice. Decades of steady prison growth consumed an ever-increasing percentage of the general budget. Even with the nation’s highest incarceration rate, Texas’ cities and towns were still plagued with violence and property crime. We were getting a very poor return on our investment in criminal justice and corrections.”
Following Marc Levin’s testimony before the U.S. Judiciary Committee, this Fox News story features Right on Crime, noting that “The project has since been part of recent, successful efforts in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina to reform their systems through such changes as reducing penalties for low-level drug possessions; expanding the use of time- and cost-efficient drug courts; using money once earmarked for prisons to improve law-enforcement strategies and expanding community-based programs for offenders, including treatment.”
Vikrant Reddy joined The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis today to talk about conservative ideas for criminal justice reform. They spoke about Senator Rand Paul’s speech to Howard University yesterday, as well as our broader Right on Crime issue set. LISTEN NOW!
Also, here is a blog post up at the DC where Lewis describes the interview and podcast.
A few days ago, the West Virginia State Senate passed criminal justice reform bill SB371 by an overwhelming vote of 33-0. It’s unusual for any legislative body to pass a bill with zero “No” votes, but that’s exactly what happened on Thursday. The legislation, which would help West Virginia achieve the goals of ensuring public safety while reducing costs, now heads over to the West Virginia House of Delegates.
The Charleston Gazette has the story on its website here.
Conservative criminal justice reform is making its way around the country, with states finding out that as prison costs rise, they need to find cost effective ways to reverse this trend. Other states, including Oregon, Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Dakota have either passed or are considering passing legislation that would reduce costs, enhance public safety and prioritize victims in the criminal justice system.
This is an issue that conservatives should monitor closely. As some commentators have noted recently, conservatives can benefit by offering urban policy solutions that make a big impact on people’s lives. Criminal justice reform, along with education, transportation and other urban issues, are key problems that conservatives must address if we are to expand our camp and bring in new people. This is why what happened in West Virginia on Thursday is so important.
Certain juveniles in Salina, Kansas, will now have an opportunity to restore their communities and their victims after they run afoul of the law.
Salina County has authorized referrals of some first-time juvenile offenders to a restorative justice initiative. The juvenile will be required to pay a $50 fee, after which he or she will participate in mediation with the victim. A volunteer community member will also attend each mediation to represent the interests of the community.
The mediation will produce a justice plan, which sets out what the juvenile needs to do to make the victim or the community whole once again. Such plans often include community service, financial restoration, or other requirements designed to hold the juvenile accountable for his or her actions while realizing the true consequences of those actions.
If the juvenile successfully completes the justice plan, the charges are dismissed, and the juvenile is able to avoid a delinquency record. If not, formal adjudication may sometimes resume.
Restorative justice is an excellent way to increase the role of the victim in both criminal and juvenile justice systems. To be sure, a victim is the only aggrieved party in many crimes, and their needs and considerations should be the focal point of the justice system.
A new report from the Department of Justice is making waves with its declaration that victimization rates increased between 2010 and 2011. After a 72 percent decrease since 1993, the violent victimization rate rose 17 percent between 2010 and 2011, while property crime rose 11 percent.
It is important to note, at the outset, that this new report only concerns victimization rates. Victimization rates are a data subset only collected by the federal government, and are calculated from a poll of a sample size of the population with questions designed to determine whether the members of the sample were victims of a variety of types of crimes. Victimization rates are purposed with capturing all criminal incidents, including those otherwise unreported to law enforcement.
In contrast to victimization rates, actual crime rates are totals of all the crimes reported to the U.S. Department of Justice by individual law enforcement entities across the United States.
Even considering the one-year increase in victimization rates, the 72 percent drop in violent crime victimization rates since 1993 reveals a lower crime rate today than the United States has experienced in many years.
Furthermore, actual crime rates reveal a dramatic decrease in the last two decades. The violent crime rate is down 47 percent between 1991 and 2010 (the earliest and latest available data). Property crime is down 43 percent across the United States.
In 2010 alone, violent crime dropped an additional six percent while property crime dropped 2.7 percent more than the prior year.
Preliminary data from 2011 shows a continued drop in crime—across the nation, violent crime dropped four percent while property crimes decreased 0.8 percent.
But Texas, specifically, boasted a greater drop in crime than the rest of the United States. Violent crime is at its lowest rate since 1978, and property crime is at its lowest rate since 1973. Meanwhile, in the last year in Texas, property crimes dropped 8.3 percent and violent crimes dropped 9.3 percent.
Finally, crime rates naturally ebb and flow from one year to the next. For instance, violent crimes dropped each year from 1991 until 2004. Violent crimes marginally rose in 2005 and 2006, after dropping each additional year until 2010. Property crime also dropped every year from 1991 until 2000, very slightly increased in 2001 and 2002, and then dropped each year until 2010. The Texas data too reveals annual ebbs and flows between each year and in each type of crime. Annual increases and decreases can only be properly analyzed in the perspective of multi-year trends. Which, again, reveal decades of drops in Texas and across the nation.
There are a wide variety of theories as to why crime is so low today, but asking why isn’t really the important part. Rather, Right on Crime, Texas, and a variety of other states from Pennsylvania to Oregon to Florida are asking how we can keep crime rates low.
Fortunately, we know the answer to that question. For example, in Texas, the Legislature took the bold step of using free market principles—limited government, personal responsibility and fiscal accountability—to reduce unnecessary expenditures, increase the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, and improve public safety. Texas prioritized effective community supervision to reduce technical revocations, implemented graduated sanctions, and increased treatment options for mentally ill offenders or those with drug addictions. In so doing, Texas avoided $2 billion in prison construction and operation costs, and, as noted earlier, continued to see greater decreases in crime than the rest of the United States.
We’ve seen substantial drops in crime in the United States for two decades now. One year of data does not change that our streets are safer today and that we know how to keep them safe.
For the last two years, various U.S. Department of Justice officials have been making a federal case out of victims’ rights. The unfortunate trend is to relegate victims to mere afterthought in the criminal justice system; the Department of Justice seeks to increase their prominence and meet their needs within the system.
From collecting data on victims and their needs after a criminal event, to ensuring that law enforcement has the tools necessary to gather and process evidence provided by a victim, the Department is refocusing its attention to this oft-forgotten stakeholder in the criminal justice system.
Indeed, the true—and sometimes only—aggrieved party to a criminal event, victims must be recognized and empowered to seek justice and achieve recompense, whether monetarily or emotionally.
This week, during its quadrennial national convention, the Republican Party released its 2012 platform. The platform is yet another indicator of how conservative leaders are reapplying basic conservative principles to criminal justice. For example, the new platform contains language explicitly emphasizing the importance of prisoner reentry, a notable change from the 2008 platform which contained none. The new platform urges that “[p]risons should do more than punish; they should attempt to rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner reentry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization.”
Similarly, the new platform contains language emphasizing the importance of restorative justice, yet another element that did not appear in the 2008 platform:
“Government at all levels should work with faith-based institutions that have proven track records in diverting young and first time, non-violent offenders from criminal careers, for which we salute them. Their emphasis on restorative justice, to make the victim whole and put the offender on the right path, can give law enforcement the flexibility it needs in dealing with different levels of criminal behavior. We endorse State and local initiatives that are trying new approaches to curbing drug abuse and diverting first-time offenders to rehabilitation.”
The starkest change in the party platform from 2008 to 2012 is the inclusion of new – and relatively detailed – language criticizing overcriminalization:
“The resources of the federal government’s law enforcement and judicial systems have been strained by two unfortunate expansions: the over-criminalization of behavior and the over-federalization of offenses. The number of criminal offenses in the U.S. Code increased from 3,000 in the early 1980s to over 4,450 by 2008. Federal criminal law should focus on acts by federal employees or acts committed on federal property – and leave the rest to the States. Then Congress should withdraw from federal departments and agencies the power to criminalize behavior, a practice which, according to the Congressional Research Service, has created “tens of thousands” of criminal offenses. No one other than an elected representative should have the authority to define a criminal act and set criminal penalties. In the same way, Congress should reconsider the extent to which it has federalized offenses traditionally handled on the State or local level.”
Of course, for those who have been following the criminal justice reforms led in recent years by prominent GOP governors (e.g., John Kasich in Ohio, Nathan Deal in Georgia, Bobby Jindal in Lousiana) none of these changes will seem especially surprising.
It is clear that Mitt Romney has a friend in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but so do those who have been victims of crime. On August 8, Gov. Christie signed groundbreaking legislation he championed that empowers New Jersey residents who have been victims of crime.
This legislation gives victims access to more information from prosecutors, assists victims of violent crime with medical expenses out of funds paid by offenders, and entitles victims to appear in court for all proceedings. Perhaps most importantly, the new law requires a judge to consider a victim’s statement before accepting a plea bargain. Moreover, the law gives victims a tool to enforce these protections, as it gives them legal standing to file motions to ensure that their interests are recognized.
The vast majority of criminal cases in the modern criminal justice system are resolved through plea bargaining. In most states, victims do not have a right to be informed about plea bargaining proceedings or provide input to the court concerning their opinion of the plea deal. This is particularly important, since research has shown victims may have somewhat different priorities than the prosecution, with restitution being the number one goal of victims in property crime cases.
This is not the first time Gov. Christie has provided strong leadership on criminal justice reform. In late July, as we documented on Right on Crime, he signed legislation that redirects low-level drug possession offenders to drug courts, which are proven to reduce recidivism. This measure will save taxpayers’ dollars and better prioritize prison space for violent and dangerous offenders.
Few doubt Gov. Christie’s toughness, but he is not just tough, he is also smart, when it comes to crime. Thanks to his leadership, there is now more hope for both victims of crime and those seeking to overcome a drug habit.