William Galston, the WSJ’s resident contrarian columnist*, has this column with the above title. Galston notes the political developments in Chicago, New York, and Washington and has this advice for his fellow liberals:
These events prove that dealing with the crime surge is back on the national agenda. Democrats must find a way to demonstrate their commitment to public safety while pursuing reasonable reforms of the criminal-justice system.
I have no quarrel with that statement, but the trick is defining “reasonable.”
We have abundant examples of “unreasonable.” Defund-the-police was unreasonable. California in the last several years has been unreasonable. The present Governor acted quickly to displace predecessor Jerry Brown as the most pro-criminal governor in the state’s history. Even Brown fought in the federal courts to prevent a major expansion of time-shortening credits for violent felons, but Newsom enthusiastically adopted them himself. (Whether he had the legal authority to do so remains disputed. Stay tuned.) Meanwhile, the Legislature eagerly adopts everything on the soft-on-crime wish list, to the extent they are not blocked by voter-approved initiatives.
Eliminating qualified immunity for police officers would not be reasonable. Would you want a job where doing your duty as you see it and as you reasonably believe the law authorizes can get you socked with a multi-million dollar judgment against you? I would not take that job. And no, a policy of the employer that it will probably but not certainly indemnify you doesn’t do it. Galston notes that even affluent, suburban Montgomery County, Maryland, where he lives, can’t keep its police force staffed. The problem is worse elsewhere. And the “reformers” want to make it worse still?
Eliminating bail is not reasonable. The New York Legislature did it, and it has been a disaster. The California Legislature tried, but California has the referendum, and the people voted it down. (Thank you, Hiram Johnson, California’s first progressive governor.) Yes, it is most unfortunate that people sit in jail for the inability to afford bail, but there is no good alternative. We can and should mitigate that harm by speeding up trials.
Reducing sentences overall is not reasonable. The notion that criminals are generally doing too much time in America is a myth. There are anecdotal examples, to be sure, but when the time actually served for various crimes is tallied, it is generally too short, not too long. John Pfaff, a “reform” advocate, determined that for those admitted in 2003 the average violent offender served only 2.3 years. (Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform , p. 188.)
What is reasonable? Better police training on use of force may be helpful. (Like, don’t put your knee on an arrestee’s neck after he is fully under control.) Specialized teams to respond to mental health calls in jurisdictions large enough to afford them would be reasonable. As noted above, increased funding for trial courts, prosecutors, and defenders to reduce backlog and get to trial more quickly would be reasonable.
We at CJLF are certainly open to other reasonable suggestions.
* Major newspapers have traditionally had one columnist whose viewpoint is contrary to the overall view of the opinion pages. Galston is the WSJ’s resident liberal on opinion pages that are generally conservative or libertarian.
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