One of my local elected representatives recently sent out an email to his constituents to note his priorities for the just-started legislative session. In that email, he stated that crime reduction was his #1 priority, punctuated with the following:
I have voted in favor of the Governor’s bill to toughen penalties for criminals who repeatedly commit crimes with guns. ... We will never reduce the number of murders until the perpetrators are locked away in jail where they can no longer terrorize our citizens.
I can't tell if he really believes this - or if it's just political speak. Regardless, it got me thinking.
During my entire politically-aware adult life (I'm 47 years old at the time of this writing), I feel like the overwhelmingly dominant solutions proposed for addressing crime have been "get tough", "get tougher", and "get tougher again". Over time, as I gained more awareness, I came to realize that this has been "the way" in the United States since Nixon. My knee jerk reaction to my representative's call for more "toughness" was pretty negative. But, I decided to dig a bit and came up with these charts that plot rates of crime/homicide against the rate of incarceration:
One could interpret these charts as justification for the "get tough" approach. After all, rates of crime/homicide are now where they were back in the 1950s/60s (the supposed good old days people appear to pine for). And, the drop in one rate correlated with a rise in the other rate. But, when you factor in the US's stratospheric incarceration rate, that conclusion seems overly simplistic:
Furthermore, when you factor in the absolutely, negatively, and inhumanely unfair impact of all of that incarceration on minority communities, that conclusion can't be allowed to stand. A reading of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander is very enlightening here.
Yes, the recent uptick in crime, locally, is cause for concern. But, where's the evidence that "getting even more tougher" is the answer? How can anyone ignore the undeniably racist results of 40-50 decades of that approach?
These aren't rhetorical questions. I'm happy to hear answers that run contrary to my current stance.