Friday, August 21, 2009

The Politics of Crime Control

After an impassioned debate over the cost and benefit of California's massive prison system, the state Senate on Thursday narrowly approved a controversial bill to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in spending on state lockups by reducing the time lower-level inmates would spend behind bars and on parole.

But the proposal remained stalled in the Assembly, where a host of lawmakers vying for higher office refused to take a vote that could portray them as soft on crime. Speaker Karen Bass kept her members late into the night in an effort to push through a watered-down version, to no avail. The Assembly adjourned just before midnight without taking action, planning to reconvene Monday.


We see the first problem in managing a failed prison system - politics - in this story from California. Policy makers - those who played a significant role in creating this problem - are afraid of being labeled soft on crime. Never heard an elected official claim to be afraid of being smart on crime.

Inside the political issue is the fact that many politicians have built their careers being tough on crime. They don't have tangible results of positive outcomes from the pursuit of their get tough approach, but that doesn't matter. They pander to the baser instincts in order to score political points. I don't think that many of these politicos care about victims or offenders - crime is just a means to an end for them.

We also see the typical response to any attempt to be smart about crime control - fear.

Republicans and some law enforcement groups, who characterize the plan as "early release" and "get out of jail free," warned that it would reverse the significant drops in crime of recent years.

"We will see mayhem on the streets of California," Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) told colleagues on the Senate floor Thursday.

Never mind the facts. Cut straight to the fear mongering. Never mind that the inmates who would be released are non-violent. Never mind that many of them are recidivists because of technical violations. Just claim that crime will go up and many elected officials will wilt.

But in this case, the federal courts have gotten involved, which was predictable. If Californai doesn't step up, we will see more riots and lawsuits. Other states - take heed.

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