Conservative criminal justice reformers have faced occasional skepticism over our tried-and-true criminal justice solutions, but never something quite so outlandish as a recent suggestion, by an avowed conservative, no less, that conservative reformers somehow bear blame for rising violent crime in liberal bastions such as New York City and Portland.
Sean Kennedy, in his recent Washington Examiner article , attacks our organization, Right on Crime, using just such an argument. Kennedy actually acknowledges our record of helping Texas and other conservative states simultaneously reduce their crime rates, prison populations, and criminal justice spending. But he then claims, without evidence and employing a classic logical fallacy , that this activity then caused subsequent increases in crime in Texas. Note that he makes this claim even though crime spiked at exactly the same time he refers to in many states where none of our reforms were enacted.
As Kennedy rightly points out, America is in danger of losing many of our hard-fought public safety gains. Big cities, and the nation as a whole, have seen a disturbing uptick in homicides. In a recent poll , 81% say they are concerned about violent crime, with nearly half of people saying they are “extremely” concerned. Adding fuel to the fire, prominent voices on the Left are still clamoring to defund the police or otherwise gut law enforcement. But the answer to these kinds of liberal excesses is not to turn against proven conservative successes.
Likewise, the response to progressive zeal to end mass incarceration is not to turn around and confuse incarceration with public safety. Yes, sometimes the best way to keep the community safe is to hold someone in jail or prison. Right on Crime and the American Conservative Union Foundation frequently diverge from left-wing criminal justice groups in that we acknowledge that some dangerous criminals just need a prison cell and nothing else will do.
But those of us who have served in law enforcement, as prosecutors or in corrections, have learned that if you invest properly in police, evidence-based programming, and prison alternatives, you can consequently achieve reductions in crime, recidivism, and ultimately prison construction costs. Further, the evidence is clear that it is the certainty and not the severity of punishment that deters potential criminals. A few more years on a potential sentence doesn’t change many minds about crime — it’s the long odds of getting away with it entirely.
Too often, people do get away with murder and a host of other crimes. Homicide clearance rates nationally hover around 50%. Whether a killer meets justice is a coin flip. If you’re worried about public safety, it’s more productive to spend your time improving clearance rates, not bemoaning the elimination of ineffective mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses.
This is why we are so adamant about reducing our overreliance on prison beds and other costly, unproductive interventions so that we can redirect this money and focus toward law enforcement and other strategies that actively improve our crime prevention and investigative capabilities. Practically speaking, this means more funding for police departments, especially homicide and other specialized units focusing on serious and violent crime — a commonsense solution backed by research . It also means helping shift to others, such as social workers and truant officers, at least a few of the dozen different jobs we currently expect law enforcement to complete, so that police can concentrate on actual police work.
This takes a little more vision, patience, and understanding of the criminal justice system than simply beating the drum for more “brutal” policing, needlessly long sentences, and more prison beds. This is why we have Right on Crime directors building relationships and assisting policymakers across almost a dozen states, helping tailor criminal justice policies for each community’s unique challenges and needs. We want to build systems that not only address immediate problems such as the homicide spike but also secure safety for the decades that follow.
If this conservative project occasionally attracts so-called “strange bedfellows,” then so be it. But that is not always the case. Right on Crime is unabashedly conservative. But we welcome anyone — conservative, libertarian, liberal, or otherwise — who is willing to drop the sensationalized political slogans in order to achieve meaningful improvements to our criminal justice systems and community well-being. Given that our conservative solutions are sensible, stand to benefit the whole community, and maintain focus on public safety, it only makes sense that people of all backgrounds would be interested in them.