America is facing a crime wave. Two years ago, Democrat-run cities accelerated their charge to reform the criminal justice system. These self-styled reformers softened criminal justice procedures to advance fairness for people supposedly dispossessed by the system. We are now seeing the consequences of this soft on crime policy across the country.
In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, leftist billionaire George Soros lamented that the United States holds “around two million people in prisons and jails.” Soros suggests that the lawbreakers themselves are the victims, advocating for “end[ing] the criminalization of poverty and mental illness.” Leftists like Soros routinely employ such erroneous framing in defense of stymieing the ability of law enforcement to keep Americans safe.
A similar message was echoed by San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto in 2020 while justifying Mayor London Breed’s decision to cut the city’s police budget by $120 million: “We are hopeful that this increased awareness and commitment will make a genuine difference and remove barriers to progress, especially for justice-involved people who seek successful reentry.” While it is certainly illogical and contrary to public safety to describe the police as “barriers to progress,” what is truly concerning about Sheriff Miyamoto’s statement is his use of the term “justice-involved people.” While the word “criminal” implies wrongdoing, “justice-involved person” invokes no such negative connotation.
The Fortune Society considers terms such as “criminals” and “offenders” to be dehumanizing. If incarcerated individuals are culpable wrongdoers, then these terms are merely accurate descriptors of behavior. If, however, they are victims who cannot be held responsible for their actions, then these terms misrepresent the problem and are, thereby, cruel and demeaning.
Leftist criminal justice policy is motivated by compassion. If criminals are simply responding to an unjust and oppressive society, then lighter sentences, bail reform, and defunding the police are necessary expressions of mercy to marginalized people. However, despite liberal attempts to improve the lives of would-be lawbreakers, crime rates in the United States still exceed pre-pandemic levels.
Last month, a New York City teen was caught on video assaulting a police officer in a subway and was released without bail. That same teen was arrested in April for a gun possession charge and again in July for a violent robbery he carried out a month earlier. Meanwhile, in Seattle, a kidnapping suspect called the police to cite a state law prohibiting them from engaging in a vehicle pursuit against him. Furthermore, California’s Proposition 47, which was passed in 2014 and lowered the penalty for some nonviolent crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor, has led to a San Francisco shoplifting epidemic.
Soft on crime policy is not compassionate. All crimes bear victims. Contrary to leftwing talking points, the victim is rarely the criminal. With the murder rate at a 25-year high, truly compassionate policy would address how to save lives and prevent future homicides, not merely keep people out of prison.
As conservative economist Thomas Sowell explains, criminals are actually quite rational; the crime rate increases when the potential consequences are lower. Thus, it is easy to see how soft on crime policy provides an additional incentive to break the law. Along the same lines, the only effective way to reduce crime in American cities to pre-pandemic levels is to be tougher on crime. If crime rates are spiking, contrary to what Soros-backed officials argue, the country is suffering from under-incarceration. Data compiled by The John Locke Foundation show that a higher presence of cops on the street is what is necessary to reduce crime.
As Enlightenment philosopher, Adam Smith put it, “Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.” It seems that a growing number of Americans are waking up to this fact, made clear by the recall of reform San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin this past June and NYC Mayor Eric Adams’s statement that New York City is the “laughingstock of the country” because of his city’s inability to control its crime problem.
The left is right that our criminal justice system must be compassionate. Soft on crime policy punishes the real victims of crime and rewards wrongdoers. Not only is it not compassionate, but it is cruel. If they truly want to see compassionate policy, they ought to abandon their reforms that have been a source of terror to the innocent.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.