Some Prosecutors Are Daring To Challenge the ‘Tough on Crime’ Status Quo
One need only look back at decades of news reports about the behavior of various California district attorneys and attorneys general to come to a sobering conclusion. Most people will shrug at almost anything from these powerful “top cops”—ranging from coddling misbehaving cops to seeking unjust sentences to wasting outrageous amounts of tax dollars.
Now, finally, some people have reached their limits.
Conservatives in particular—the folks who warn about big-spending government and officials who abuse our God-given rights—are apoplectic after voters elected a number of “progressive prosecutors,” who have the audacity to implement policies they touted on the campaign trail.
“For decades, prosecutors have won elections by championing tough-on-crime policies that empowered them to use their discretion to levy harsh punishments,” the Center for American Progress explained. As a result, the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world—and a justice system that’s known for brutal prisons and is immune to change.
By contrast, this new breed of prosecutors has “pursued a range of policies, including using diversion and treatment programs as alternatives to drug-related crimes, refusing to prosecute cases brought by officers with a history of dishonesty or unreliability, and reducing prosecutions of lower-level crimes,” the progressive-leaning group added.
Their basic stated ideas—holding officials accountable, trying alternatives that might achieve better results, making the system more respectful of individual rights, doing more than throwing taxpayer money at the problem—sound almost conservative. Some of these concepts also echo those offered by prominent conservative justice-reform groups.
This Editorial Board recently interviewed Los Angeles County’s district attorney, George Gascón, who already is facing a recall election only six months after assuming control of that sprawling prosecutorial office. Funded by a Republican donor, the recall effort blames Gascón for rising crime and accuses him of promoting a “radical, pro-criminal agenda.”
During our chat, Gascón mentioned his talk in Austin, Texas, to the conservative group Right on Crime, which includes such, er, radical members as Reagan administration Attorney General Ed Meese and former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Gascón bemoaned the increasing partisanship of the criminal-justice reform issue, with Republicans settling into their same old “law and order” stance.
This is from Right on Crime’s statement of principles: “As with any government program, the criminal justice system must be transparent and include performance measures that hold it accountable for its results in protecting the public, lowering crime rates, reducing re-offending, collecting victim restitution and conserving taxpayers’ money.”
Within California’s district attorney offices and the state Department of Justice, there’s virtually no focus on those points—regardless of the political affiliation of the person in charge. Despite the state’s image as a progressive haven, it long has embraced some of the most retrograde crime and police-accountability policies, thanks largely to the power of reform-resistant unions.
Two of California’s most recent Democratic attorneys general, Xavier Becerra (now secretary of
Article from Latest – Reason.com