Criminal Justice

Some Prosecutors Are Daring To Challenge the 'Tough on Crime' Status Quo

They're mostly progressives, but their ideas about limiting government power and respecting individual rights sound almost conservative.

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One need only look back at decades of news reports about the behavior of various California district attorneys and attorneys general to come to a sobering conclusion. Most people will shrug at almost anything from these powerful "top cops"—ranging from coddling misbehaving cops to seeking unjust sentences to wasting outrageous amounts of tax dollars.

Now, finally, some people have reached their limits.

Conservatives in particular—the folks who warn about big-spending government and officials who abuse our God-given rights—are apoplectic after voters elected a number of "progressive prosecutors," who have the audacity to implement policies they touted on the campaign trail.

"For decades, prosecutors have won elections by championing tough-on-crime policies that empowered them to use their discretion to levy harsh punishments," the Center for American Progress explained. As a result, the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world—and a justice system that's known for brutal prisons and is immune to change.

By contrast, this new breed of prosecutors has "pursued a range of policies, including using diversion and treatment programs as alternatives to drug-related crimes, refusing to prosecute cases brought by officers with a history of dishonesty or unreliability, and reducing prosecutions of lower-level crimes," the progressive-leaning group added.

Their basic stated ideas—holding officials accountable, trying alternatives that might achieve better results, making the system more respectful of individual rights, doing more than throwing taxpayer money at the problem—sound almost conservative. Some of these concepts also echo those offered by prominent conservative justice-reform groups.

This Editorial Board recently interviewed Los Angeles County's district attorney, George Gascón, who already is facing a recall election only six months after assuming control of that sprawling prosecutorial office. Funded by a Republican donor, the recall effort blames Gascón for rising crime and accuses him of promoting a "radical, pro-criminal agenda."

During our chat, Gascón mentioned his talk in Austin, Texas, to the conservative group Right on Crime, which includes such, er, radical members as Reagan administration Attorney General Ed Meese and former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Gascón bemoaned the increasing partisanship of the criminal-justice reform issue, with Republicans settling into their same old "law and order" stance.

This is from Right on Crime's statement of principles: "As with any government program, the criminal justice system must be transparent and include performance measures that hold it accountable for its results in protecting the public, lowering crime rates, reducing re-offending, collecting victim restitution and conserving taxpayers' money."

Within California's district attorney offices and the state Department of Justice, there's virtually no focus on those points—regardless of the political affiliation of the person in charge. Despite the state's image as a progressive haven, it long has embraced some of the most retrograde crime and police-accountability policies, thanks largely to the power of reform-resistant unions.

Two of California's most recent Democratic attorneys general, Xavier Becerra (now secretary of Health and Human Services) and Kamala Harris (now vice president), essentially were tools of the police unions and fought reform efforts, despite some of their recent Road to Damascus rhetoric. The current system is a bipartisan edifice, so I agree with Gascon that it would be nice to see both parties work constructively on the issue.

I like to mention the 1998 governor's campaign, when Democrat Gray Davis faced Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren. During a televised debate, Davis said "on issues of law and order, he considered Singapore—a country that executes drug offenders—'a good starting point,'" The New York Times reported. Davis was not going to let Lungren outflank him on the right on crime.

A lot has changed. Violent crime had been rising in the 1980s and early 1990s but started to fall even before voters approved tough-on-crime ballot measures. Crime has since fallen to 1960s levels but has been moving in an upward direction. The question is whether we can debate the issue without Davis-era histrionics. Few criminologists believe there's a simple correlation between crime rates and sentencing policies.

The nature of government always is the same, whether we're talking about the Internal Revenue Service or your local district attorney's office. There's nothing that bureaucrats hate worse than change. No wonder a district attorney's association, police unions, and the criminal-justice bureaucracy feel threatened now that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction.

Progressive prosecutors are a varied bunch. Some, such as San Francisco's Chesa Boudin, strike me as hard-core leftists with a sweeping societal agenda that downplays the public's serious concern about violent crime. Others, such as former beat cop and police chief Gascon, take crime problems seriously—but are looking at alternate approaches to sentencing, re-entry programs, policing, and public-safety budgeting.

I'll reserve judgment on progressive prosecutors' specific reforms until there's time to analyze how they are working, but I'm glad that they've sparked a broader criminal-justice discussion.

This column was first published in The Orange County Register.

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  1. “They’re mostly progressives”

    Of course they are. Not only have modern progressives embraced the Koch / Reason #OpenTheBorders agenda, they also agree with our #EmptyThePrisons agenda.

    IOW if you want billionaires like Reason.com’s benefactor Charles Koch to have the largest, most cost-effective labor force possible, you need to vote Democrat.

    #LibertariansForBiden

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  2. We’ll see how progressive and supportive of defendant rights they are when it involves white male Republicans and/ or the second amendment.

    1. Already have in St. Louis with Kim Gardner prosecuting the McCloskeys but not prosecuting rioters.

      1. And in Austin, where the DA finally found a Grand Jury to indict that hapless driver who last year shot the fat fuck Antifa member pointing an AK at him and his car. https://www.statesman.com/story/news/2021/07/01/former-ft-hood-army-sergeant-indicted-death-austin-protester-garrett-foster-daniel-perry/7809946002/

        No true bill used to mean something.

        I fervently hope Mr. Greenhut gets to experience the full measure of the results from what his advocacy here contributes toward. Perhaps he can spark up a broader criminal justice discussion with someone who would have been safely incapacitated before the reforms Greenhut has supported.

        1. Greenhut lives in California and is seeing it, maybe not first hand yet. Prosecutions for “victimless” property crimes are way down, which has given gangs the green light to break into your car and steal your stuff.

          1. you can steel up to $900 worth of stuff and nothing happens and apparently they got rid of three strikes since around here no one goes to jail anymore no matter what they steal. I don’t know about others but if i had to replace some $900.00 office equipment i’d be pissed and it hurts both financially and in time lost. I am the victim of theft a $3000.00 computer. Cop said you’ll never find don’t bother reporting.

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        2. A lot of these ‘progressive prosecutors’ had their campaigns funded by George Soros. I doubt Reason will look into that. Soros funded prosecutors will define not be tough on crime j less it involves their political enemies.

          1. Why would they look into a friend of their boss?

    2. Duh. There used to be crimes against out-boded ideas like property and a legal code that applied equally to everybody. Now there are crimes defined by perception of the victim, and the hierarchical status of victim vs perpetrator. Welcome to the Post-modern world.

      1. “a legal code that applied equally to everybody.”

        Lol!

        1. Everything Is So Terrible And Unfair™ right shreek?

  3. Unfortunately law and order is one of the cultural issue argued on emotions rather than data. Let us hope that moving into the 2020, some of these new prosecutors have some success and we can move to a more rational attitude on crime.

    1. Oh, they are having “success” alright..

    2. Prosecuting actual crimes and letting vices go would be a good compromise.

    3. The data like crime rates exploding nationwide after 30 years of decline at precisely the same time that Democratic-controlled DAs stopped prosecuting crimes, or selectively prosecuting them based on race.

      1. But if you really look into the data we see that most crimes are still going down and it is murders that are increasing. I doubt that many prosecutors following any philosophy will let murder slide.

  4. I’ll reserve judgment on progressive prosecutors’ specific reforms until there’s time to analyze how they are working

    How many Five Year Plans are you willing to indulge?

    1. One less than it takes for the consequences to reach his neighborhood or family I’m betting.

  5. Sure sure, progressives who sound conservative, must be libertarian. gargle, rise, repeat.

    1. If they sound conservative they’re probably not libertarian. That’s been a false alliance from the start.

      1. Pay your bets and stop fucking children, shreek, you sick sack of shit.

  6. Their basic stated ideas—holding officials accountable, trying alternatives that might achieve better results, making the system more respectful of individual rights, doing more than throwing taxpayer money at the problem—sound almost conservative.

    Ah yes, the old “conservatives are the responsible ones” myth.

    1. They do tend to run cities better than leftists. Given that nearly every large democrat run city is a dumpster fire shithole.

  7. Eliminate bail, except for anyone arrested 1/6/21.

    Ending the abuses (people locked up for long periods awaiting trial for minor crimes), good. The left will, of course, also end bail for the guy arrested covered in blood holding a severed head, because the left has to go too far to feel good about themselves in comparison to the cattle who object, and to force something down the throats of the cattle that they hate.

    1. Even Californians weren’t gullible enough to eliminate cash bail when we had the chance to vote on it. Cash bail is an individual’s last chance to hang on to their freedom against an oppressive state. If some people can’t afford it, that’s what bail bondsmen are for.

  8. We know the system has become entrenched enough that they’re working primarily for themselves rather than addressing the problems they were created to address, that’s a given for any system or organization. (See Pournelle’s Law or Systemantics.) Every so often you gotta tear everything up and start over again because bureaucracies tend to expand to fill the known universe otherwise. So why not try something different?

    If you’re looking for the perfect replacement for the system, you’re not going to get it. You may not even get a system that is any better than the existing system, you may get one that’s even worse. But the first priority is disrupting the existing system, to open people’s eyes to the fact that the existing bureaucracy is not an inevitability, that you can effect changes if you push hard enough.

    The old way of doing things and the new way of doing things is not a binary choice as proponents of the same old same old would have you believe – if the new way of doing things doesn’t work so well, try another new way, you don’t have to go back to the old way because we know that has its own set of problems. You gotta get rid of the old before you can build something new and whatever it takes to get rid of the old it’s better than sitting pat.

    But enough about why we elected Donald Trump.

  9. These are all big government liberals more concerned with the societal fairness that their prosecutions (or lack thereof) promote than the rule of law. Anyone insinuating anything other than that is misleading people.

    That doesn’t change the fact that some of these reforms are a good idea in principle, I don’t care about someone’s motivations if the desired goal is met. However, it also means it leaves those reforms to the prosecutors discretion and gives them the opportunity to show how committed they are to social justice, as opposed to justice, throwing all of that high-minded rhetoric out the window when it comes to “socially advantaged” groups.

    1. “”These are all big government liberals more concerned with the societal fairness””

      That’s what they say. But I don’t see it. I do them wanting special privileges for their team. If you were not a trump supporter, rioting is ok. If fairness was in play, everyone who rioted in 2020 would face charges. If you are white, you will get blamed for all ills of society. Just because you are white. We can can talk about white on everybody else crime but bring up gang violence in inner cities and you get shut down. They were really mad that Trump for sexual harassments. Women even went to DC to protest. but say nothing of Biden and there was no woman’s march on Albany. I’m sure many NY women went to DC, they could have went to Albany too.

      1. They do want special privileges….

        Waiting for coffee to kick in.

  10. It helps if you broaden your understanding of what a crime is. Punishing people too harshly should be a crime. You turn it back on the people demanding vindictive punishment.

    1. Punishment should only be kind?

    2. Like shooting people in the back for trespassing?

    3. You mean like the 1/6 protesters being held for 6 months? That kind of crime?

  11. Lol, the problem with this is it takes the conservatives’ sometimes rhetoric about limited government seriously. Conservatives would love government to be super-active and powerful *as long as it doesn’t bother people like them.* They’ve championed aggressive government action on obscenity, sexual behavior, lifestyle choices, drug use, business dealings, speech, aggressive police and ‘wartime’ techniques what have you as long as they think it will target people not like them.

    1. Well said. Conservative does not equal small government, it has its own version of big government.

      1. Do you really believe all the soft headed crap you write? I see you as a CNN viewer who takes them seriously.

        1. What do you do for information?

    2. One of the biggest drug warriors is Biden. He never meet a crime bill he didn’t like.

      A lot of that is bipartisan.

      1. Democrats are just theists. Everything bad is the fault of the GOP (the devil for religious fanatics). They even rewrite history to cast their past sins as actually being the GOP (the devil). That’s all the OP is. They ignore the crimes and punishments in the 80s were pushed by inner city democrats.

      2. Biden is a bigoted racist. Always has been. Even his own VP attacked him for that. All he’s doing now is pandering. A great democrat pastime.

    3. Who knew Tipper Gore, Barney Franks, Lizzie Warren and Chuckie Shumer were conservatives.

    4. Citation needed…

    5. “Lol, the problem with this is it takes the leftists’ sometimes rhetoric about limited government seriously. Liberals would hate government to be super-active and powerful *unless it doesn’t bother people other than them.* They’ve opposed aggressive government action on obscenity, sexual behavior, lifestyle choices, drug use, business dealings, speech, aggressive police and ‘wartime’ techniques what have you until they think it will target people not like them.”

      Fixed that for ya

  12. the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world—and a justice system that’s known for brutal prisons and is immune to change.

    One of the highest? That is unacceptable. We should be the highest without question. USA #1. Home of the Free and the Brave.

    1. I was just pondering this stat.

      The US still has a society and legal code biased towards freedom. We give people lots of opportunity to fuck up. If some people can’t resist and end up in prison, are we then maintaining a freer society for those who have self control?

      In contrast, many of those societies with lower incarceration rates have much more strict controls on behavior for everyone. Thus they make it harder to actually commit crimes, or at least the same sorts of crimes.

      Which is better? (I know my preference)

      1. You’re awesome dude, much better than many.

        That’s what you were looking for, right?

        1. Being held in esteem by a kiddie fucker who posts child porn and welches on his bets is not what anyone is looking for, shreek. Your opinion means less than a pile of dogshit to anyone.

  13. Crime falls when you keep reducing how much wrong you have to do before it is a crime. If they don’t prosecute it do they even count it? What level of misdemeanor must it reach to count?

  14. It is comically stupid to imagine that these “progressives” share libertarian principles. Their agenda is about race-baiting to get votes, which they will use for a very anti-libertarian agenda.

    1. Uh, libertarians have long and often cited the disparate impact of things like the drug laws on minorities. That was ‘race baiting’ I assume?

      1. No intelligent person gas ever used disparate impact as the primary concern of an argument. Populations do not act equally. Full stop.

      2. Yeah, it was shreek. Opposing laws because the people who break them belong to a certain race is shameful and racist. Opposing laws because they are bad laws regardless of who breaks them is what it means to actually give a fuck about the issue.

  15. refusing to prosecute cases brought by officers with a history of dishonesty or unreliability,

    Officers so dishonest and unreliable that their collars can’t be prosecuted by reputation but no dismissal?

    I hate to be all conservative about this, but it doesn’t sound like a system to fix anything and arguably further undermines the rule of law/equality before the law, just a reactionary tantrum to make things better for the prosecutors’ preferred groups. Typical ‘not better, just different’ progressivism.

    1. “I hate to be all conservative about this”

      Methinks she dost protest too much.

      1. Is that what you said to all the little girls you fucked too, shreek?

    2. It makes you wonder who’s running all these cities and why officers with such a bad record are still on the street working for those cities, and why they can’t be removed early on.

      1. And why do progressive run cities need the federal government to fix their policing policies for them? The George Floyd incident isn’t a result of federal policies or laws.

  16. the author claims that the united states has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world because of harsh punishments. no, we have high incarceration numbers because we have too many criminals and those criminals are punished. if you want lower incarceration rates then convince the criminals to change professions. as for me i’m happy to see the dirt bags locked up for as long as possible. if you don’t like prison then obey the law — it’s a very simple equation.

    1. Why do you think we are especially law breaking? What’s the independent variable?

      1. We have a huge, continent-spanning, highly heterogeneous population.

        Of course that doesn’t explain why you chose to fuck children, shreek.

    2. No we have the highest incarceration rate because we focus on incarceration and other restrictions on freedom as the primary form of punishment (v fines/restitution in most richer countries) and we sentence people for longer for the same imprisonable offense. Here. Homicide is the only crime where the US is an outlier. That crime gets attention but is a teeny portion of those in prison.

      Incarceration gets votes. Incarceration enables large-scale corruption. That is why we do what we do.

      1. And homicide is an outlier because violence here is more consequential – not because we are more murderous.

      2. Your broken link points to a radical left wing organization on which Al Gore III sits on the board.

        1. The 51 data sources are clearly visible on that report as footnotes though yeah the link added some reason stuff to the URL somehow.

          Ranging from the DoJ to the Natl Governors association to European Statistics Offices to criminology/law Journals.

          And if they are ‘radical leftist’ because their goal is to reduce the imprisonment rate to somewhere below Cuba and Commie China – well it’s a weird and wacky world ennit?

  17. Greenhut and his no enemies to the left schtick.

    Must be a day ending in Y.

  18. “Conservatives in particular—the folks who warn about big-spending government and officials who abuse our God-given rights—are apoplectic after voters elected a number of “progressive prosecutors,” who have the audacity to implement policies they touted on the campaign trail.”

    Again, reason conflates a legitimate issue of police reform with progressive BS, which is what conservatives are really apoplectic over (almost no one disputes that reform is needed).

    You’ve got regressive leftist prosecutors letting rapists go free, while they arrest people for not wearing masks.

    In Seattle, you have the same people being arrested over and over again and not being charged because of muh justice, and no surprises when these people later commit violent crimes. BTW, that city has opened my eyes and really disabused me of many naive beliefs about libertarian fantasies.

    L.A., San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, all absolute dumps now because of progressive, soft on crime, policies.

    Even Biden admitted post election that dems got their asses handed to them down ballot because of dumb shit defund the police movements.

    Progressives bend over backwards to defend the people that are abusing them, it is akin to an abusive relationship.

    1. Unsaid in the article is that the old and new prosecutors in the big cities are all Democrats, and none of them are “conservatives”.

    2. Even Biden admitted post election that dems got their asses handed to them down ballot because of dumb shit defund the police movements.

      So you admit that the reason both parties focus on ‘throw the book at them’ is not because of the criminal or the crime but because of how voters feel about that.

      1. No, it’s voters’ lived experience with these policies: skyrocketing crime, chaos, and lawlessness.

        1. What lived experience? The one from 30 years ago when crime was really a problem? Or the one from the last few years when Trump was channeling Nixon in order to rile you up and get votes?

          1. How should voters feel about rioting, property crimes, and violent assaults, all increasing amidst Democrats calling for the police to be defunded? Is it irrational to want law and order?

            I’ve watched Seattle go to hell in a handbasket over the past 5 years, Portland too. How do you feel about the nightly riots there?

  19. There are some systematic problems with census-counting and obstacles to larger cities annexing nearby suburbs.

    Years ago it was exposed that “prisoners” in states like Virginia were counted in the U.S. Census, in the zip codes where the prison was located, not the zip code where the prisoner resided. In addition to good jobs at the prison zip code (economic stimulus) being created where the prison was located, faulty census counting increased tax revenue to the prison zip code while decreasing tax dollars to the poor neighborhoods’ zip codes needing better schools, better public transportation, hiring more police officers and boosting economic growth in the poor neighborhood (root causes of high crime neighborhoods).
    That scheme helps increase crime rates creating more prison inmates. Most suburban parents wouldn’t send their kids to these school districts and were opposed to busing policies.

    There is also the “Annexation Obstacle”. In 2014 the U.S. Department of Justice published the “Ferguson Report” and how to minimize policing-for-profit which disproportionately harms African-Americans and poor people. In this real life scenario Ferguson, MS had a small municipal government that didn’t have enough tax revenue to support it’s own police department, so the small town preyed on poor African-Americans. If St. Louis (largest nearby city) had annexed Ferguson, police officers would be more focused on safety than on making money.

    In places like Richmond, Virginia – on it’s east end, there are streets shorter than a football field long. On the same street, city-residents pay a much higher tax rate than county-residents a few yards away. Cities, like Richmond, get robbed of tax revenue even though the suburban residents benefit from proximity to the city. If that same county were located in southwest Virginia, it would be a poor county. These counties are only rich due to proximity to the larger cities.

    The premise of America is not equal-outcomes (communism) but equal-opportunity as outlined by the Preamble to the Constitution and Bill of Rights. This was also the message of Christian minister Martin Luther King, Jr. This system is contrary to that American system.

  20. Property rights and the rule of law must be strictly enforced to achieve “free minds and free markets.” reason forgets this all too often as it pushes for open borders and other progressive policies.

  21. Others, such as former beat cop and police chief Gascon, take crime problems seriously

    Yeah. That’s why he ordered his DAs not to appear at parole board hearings.

  22. Some prosecutors are declining to press charges against mostly peaceful protesters, which will encourage more mostly peaceful protests.

    And letting people burn stuff down and break things can hardly be described as “respecting individual rights”.

  23. It makes much better sense when you realize that conservative small government rhetoric is a pack of goddamn lies. Of course it’s progressive to reform prisons. What do you think we do with our time, drink the blood of infants?

    It’s inherently conservative to lock ’em up. They chant it all the time. Individual freedom for the conservative or libertarian has always been assumed to be restricted to wealthy white taxpayers and those who live the delusion that they will be one one day.

    By the time your cohort is done making exceptions for trespassers, immigrants, petty criminals, and let’s not forget workers, whom you require to spend most of their waking lives under the authoritarian fist of their manager, one starts to question how committed you actually are to the actual concept of individual liberty.

    Empty the prisons. Put violent psychopaths in hospitals and poke them with scientific instruments. Otherwise, the science is settled: harsher punishment doesn’t deter more crime. Prisons are criminal factories. It was a mistake and an abomination, and the United States can’t be a place of individual liberty while locking up the most humans of any country on earth. Sorry if that means more people are free to vote for Democrats. Just really sorry about that.

    1. It really is all about de,or at power for,you, isn’t it? Progs like you enable all these terrible things. You’re a good example of why the practice of Marxism should be criminalized.

      I can only hope that one of those violent psychopaths you want freed come to your home and makes you his next victim. Instead of a good American.

    2. What do you think we do with our time, drink the blood of infants?

      Shreek presumably doesn’t drink their blood after he fucks them, but fucking them is bad enough.

      Also going down to watch the big, muscly studs work out in the yard is not actually “prison reform”, Tones.

    3. What do you think we do with our time, drink the blood of infants?

      Not all of you, but Pelosi’s a lich. What do you think she drinks?

  24. Of course it’s progressive to reform prisons. What do you think we do with our time, drink the blood of infants?

    So what you’re saying is our current incarceration situation is the result of near constant progressive meddling? Those wily conservatives strike again!

    1. I blame Nancy Reagan’s astrologer.

  25. This article attempts to gaslight the public so obviously that we can only laugh about it.

    Pretty much all serious public sentiment in favor of criminal justice reform has gone out the window, and rightly so, because for the last 15 months most of our major cities have been overrun by BLM terrorists pillaging, looting, burning, and murdering — and being let walk by corrupt DAs whom Soros funded to have elected so that they could do exactly that, while persecuting victims such as Kyle Rittenhouse who defended themselves from the terrorists.

    Trump should have sent in the army to do the job those DAs wouldn’t. Biden, of course, will not because like the DAs, he is in bed with the terrorists as well as being in China’s pay.

    1. Snake Plissken can take care of marauding gangs of terrorists within about 90 minutes. Just hire some shit heel to give him the order and implant explosives in his neck and he pretty much works for free.

  26. “are apoplectic after voters elected a number of “progressive prosecutors,” who have the audacity to implement policies they touted on the campaign trail.”

    You mean Soros selected.

  27. The Tough on Crime status quo created historically low crime rates. The Weak on Crime movement is producing the opposite, genius.

  28. I spend a lot of time in SE Asia, there are some countries there, India and Cambodia come to mind where the shopkeepers and people don’t have faith that when they are victims of petty crime, shoplifting, snatch and grab etc, then all the shopkeepers beat the shit out of the thief.

    Even here one of the primary functions of the police is to protect the criminal, even if the police and criminal don’t know that.

    Because at some point when the police no longer protect the people from criminals, then the people will start doing it themselves. And it won’t be pretty, and mistakes will be made.

  29. Basically to sum up these new prosecutors, look at St. Louis. Very few (if any) rioters were prosecuted, but the DA went after two people who defended their home property by waving guns.

    It’s not reform, it’s prosecuting along political lines.

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