Is America getting less punitive?

Radley Balko says: "In a new piece for Huffington Post, I look at a number of criminal justice related issues on this year's ballot, including marijuana, Three Strikes, and the recent defeats of several prosecutors who played a role in wrongful convictions. I also chat with a couple longtime criminal justice reform activists about whether the results indicate an electorate less fixated only on punitive approaches to crime and incarceration."

Even if the public mood has shifted, Congress is usually way behind. "There's always an innate caution among politicians about doing anything they perceive as controversial," Sterling says. "They're really sensitive to what cops say. They don't want the police unions opposing them, and no politician wants to pick a fight with a police chief. When I was on Capitol Hill, and this was 20-25 years ago, I had lawmakers tell me that it made perfect sense to them to legalize drugs. But they'd always say, 'You can never quote me on that.' None of them wanted to appear soft on crime, even if it was the right thing to do."
Americans Voting Smarter About Crime, Justice At Polls


  1. I suspect what’s really happening is the long-term economic costs of being “tough on crime” are becoming harder to ignore with each passing year.

    1. right.  just connect the dots.  the inhumane part of warehousing human beings aside (and I don’t mean that lightly, of course), spending all this money on the prison-industrial complex is not making us any more safe. 
      and the war on drugs is not stopping people from doing them.

    2. harder to ignore with each passing year

      I agree.

      As Internet usage continues to expand (while the quality of independent news sources improve) it’s exposing more and more people to precious facts despite the ongoing corporatist onslaught to muddy the waters and obfuscate information that empowers average citizens.

      While the Internet is certainly full of FUD, much of it is spread by corporatist lackeys who don’t have the smarts and gusto to stand against truly passionate, ethical, persistent, smarter critical thinkers with a purpose in life beyond almighty ducket acquisition.

      We live in a time where we can finally (finally!) raise awareness and money via the Internet to penetrate the corporatist firewall via television commercials, etc. and spread precious facts to average Americans.

      That’s how Prop 64 passed in Colorado and that’s how we’ll continue to educate the public about the military/prison-industrial complex.

      As I’ve always said it would be, it’s painfully slow… but we are winning.  We’re occupying the entire nation one educated mind at a time.

  2. That is NOT good news for the Republican “brand.” For a couple of years now, I’ve been pointing out to my friends that you can reliably predict which side of any issue a Republican will be on by asking which side, which policy, will result in more people being punished.

    1. Hmm…Looks like a good place to drop this.  Focus on the big map.  The nation is nowhere near as “red” as TV pundits want us to believe.

  3. I wonder if this is a matter of how ‘punitive’ we are feeling or how tolerant of “collateral damage” (and who we are willing to so classify) we are…

    “Tough on crime” is only partly about how long you want prison sentences to be, and for exactly what you want them. It also tends to include a lot of tolerance (or overt enthusiasm) for procedurally troubling methods of getting Them off the streets and preserving order, and cracking down on moral decay, and we talk too much about ‘criminals’ rights’, what about victims’ rights?!

    Something like a prosecutor who withholds exculpatory evidence isn’t actually “tough on crime”(since it reduces the accuracy with which crime is punished), except in the sense that it reflects the “Even if he isn’t guilty of what he was charged with, he’s scum who is probably guilty of something else and needs to be in a cage where he belongs” mentality. 

    Regardless of how strictly ‘punitive’ the public is feeling(whether they are criminal-justice-as-therapy bleeding hearts or hang-em-high capital punishment fetishists), you can really only sell a criminal justice system that routinely produces miscarriages of justice if the people voting for it:
    (A)believe that it won’t happen to them or people they care about
    (B)believe that the people it happens to deserve it, regardless of a few ‘isolated incidents’
    (C)believe that the things you are being ‘tough’ on are actually ‘crime’.

    If your voting population starts shifting in one or more of those areas, you may still have significant support for harsh punishments; but procedural ghastliness or unpopular prohibitions are likely to fall on harder times.

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