Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who’s held on to his job despite incurring the wrath of President Donald Trump, apparently is trying to curry favor with his boss and play to the right wing of the Republican base by returning to a tried and true GOP mantra: Get tough on crime.
OK. Quickly now, can we see all the hands of those, elected and not, who are opposed to getting tough on crime, who want to rock violent criminals to sleep, who think murderers are picked on far too much? Ummm … don’t see any hands, there.
And had Sessions taken a survey during an appearance in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday — the Queen City has suffered a crime spike — he wouldn’t have seen any, either.
There does not exist a politician or citizen who does not want to get tough on crime. Violent criminals should be punished, locked up, prosecuted to the full capability of the legal system. Habitual property criminals need to be off the streets. Drug dealers who prey on the young or the increasing numbers of opioid addicts should go away for long periods of time, if not forever.
But Sessions’ announcement of a partnership to fight crime, joining federal, state and local law enforcement groups, was long on punishment and short on going after the causes of crime.
Unfortunately, Republicans long ago captured the “tough on crime” stance and have used it as a political marketing ploy ever since. But their solutions are few. Very few.
Though year after year, decade after decade, poverty and horrid home lives and a lack of any rehabilitation have been shown as causing upsurges in crime, programs to try to turn lives around have been few and far between. Instead, the GOP theme has been to throw more people in jail.
Yes, indeed, one of the promises Sessions made in Charlotte was to tout more prosecutors and engage in tough talk about how the Trump administration “has your back” — that comment being directed at law enforcement officers.
Well and good because criminals do need to be caught and jailed. But consider the more reasoned and realistic comments from Jake Sussman, who once was an attorney in Charlotte and now directs Harvard University’s Fair Punishment Project.
“The tough-on-crime, racially tinged policies of the 1980s fueled mass incarceration but did not make us safer,” he said. Instead, Sussman suggested that government ought to look at the causes of crime and treating people who have been criminals or are at risk of becoming criminals for things such as drug addiction and the mental health problems that are common in county jails and prisons.
His thoughts don’t sell as well on the political stump. But the truth is that all the get-tough approaches haven’t solved what is a very real and very dangerous crime problem in America’s cities and towns and rural communities, all of which are at more risk now thanks to the opioid epidemic.
Solutions are not as simple as some politicians would like to convince people they are. If they were, crime would be way down. It’s not. It’s up. And it’s going to get worse until America’s leaders from the courthouse to the White House start looking at causes and not just punishments.
— The News &Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)