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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Is "Tough on Crime" Dead?

That's the question that the Washington Post Wonkblog asks.  The writer, Emily Badger, leads in with the discussion of the questions some of the public and politicians have raised related to whether we have militarized our civilian law enforcement and uses it to transition into a discussion of what most of us have associated with the term "Tough on Crime:"
For decades, that idea has dominated sentencing policy, political ads, local police tactics and federal law-enforcement support. "Tough on crime" became intertwined with the "war on drugs." It yielded "three strikes" laws and mandatory minimum sentencing. It drove the unmatched rise of American incarceration. It justified the deployment of harsh police tactics and the need for meaner equipment, both of which have been used beyond drug crime. It became a potent political label, the only acceptable adjective: If you're not tough on crime, then you don't have anything worth saying about crime at all.
In Virginia, George Allen rode into the Governor's Office in 1993 talking about "liberal lenient parole."  By the time he left office, parole had basically been abolished.  He built new prisons but Virginia actually rented out prison space to other states for a time.  Virginia led the nation in some of these policies, but not all states followed our example.  No parole, three strikes laws, and keeping violent criminals off of the streets is what I associate with "tough on crime,"  not "harsh police tactics," armored vehicles and military grade weapons.  So, you understand my confusion at the connections Badger makes in her piece.  She asserts that the phrase is now in retreat:
Today, "tough on crime" appears to be decidedly in retreat, as conservatives have begun to balk at the financial costs of incarceration, and as liberals have objected to the costs in civil liberties — and the disproportionate racial impacts — of aggressive policing. The rhetoric of "tough on crime" is fading.
Hopefully, Badger is wrong and policy makers will separate the question of the type of equipment civilian law enforcement uses from the question of keeping violent criminals in jail.  We certainly don't want more of the type of stories that Cam Edwards of NRANews shares daily on his program.

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