Saturday, January 05, 2008

Partisan labels provide little guide for identifying criminal justice reformers

Do you consider Democrats or Republicans generally better on supporting criminal justice reforms? In my experience, the reality is more complex than public sterotypes about "left" and "right."

For example, here's an item where I strongly prefer President Bush's agenda to any Democrat running for President:

Every year since he took office, President Bush proposed zeroing out the "Byrne grant" program, now known as the Justice Assistance Program, which nationally is mostly used to fund regional drug task forces like the infamous one in Tulia. (In Texas, Governor Perry defunded our 40+ drug task forces and shifted our share of Byrne grant money to border security - specifically grants to border sheriffs - so that's where the cuts will be felt here.)

Though never entirely successful, over time President Bush has convinced Congress to whittle the program down to nearly nothing - this year the fund was cut from $520 million to $170 million, down from more than $800 million just a few years ago. On this score, I find myself more in agreement with folks like the Heritage Foundation and the National Taxpayers Union than with national Democrats - it's time once and for all for Byrne-grant funded drug task forces to go.

Similarly, this morning Doc Berman points out how Hillary Clinton attacked Barack Obama for allegedly being soft on crime. Why? Because he once criticized federal mandatory minimums that are entirely deserving of criticism. Berman effectively shows that Clinton's position not only tries to out-tuff Obama, but many Republicans:
As David Zlotnick and FAMM have effectively documented here and here, many well-known conservatives and Republican-appointed judges have spoken out forcefully against federal mandatory minimum sentences. Policy criticisms of mandatory minimum sentences have come from, inter alia, the late Chief Justice Rehnquist, current Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, and former Utah District Judge Paul Cassell, none of whom will ever be accused of having been too liberal for the American public.
Proposing reactionary criminal justice policies is a bipartisan pastime, not only the purview of one or another party. Too many candidates from both parties, as Berman said of Hillary Clinton, are "quite eager to use the old "soft-on-crime" scare strategy in an effort to swing voters [their] way."

By contrast, many from both parties support smarter, more pragmatic outcome-focused approaches that rely on evidence about what works to reduce crime instead of knee jerk political slogans.

The political divide on criminal justice isn't between Democrats and Republicans, it's much more between opportunists and pragmatists. Typically, both political parties find themselves long on the former and short on the latter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For me, my perception of the character of the candidate is more important than their purported ideology. I really have difficulty understanding folks who vote straight tickets when there are so many jerks on both sides of the aisle.