Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Can Libertarians trust the conservative group Right on Crime?

When it comes to conservatives and crime their standard line is "law and order". Which for most libertarians it translates to making excuses for police abuses, prosecutor misconduct, overzealous judges and so on. Of course whenever someone points out these things, conservatives are quick to call you "soft on crime". However to be fair the only civil liberties that conservatives actually care about is gun rights and religion. Even then they're still hypocritical when it comes to gun rights.

So naturally when a conservative group pops up and bills itself as being for justice reform most if not all libertarians should be skeptical. So one can be the judge of Right on Crime using their priority issues page

Issue One: Overcriminalization

Their Concern:

Thousands of harmless activities are now classified as crimes in the United States. These are not typical common law crimes such as murder, rape, or theft.  Instead they encompass a series of business activities such as importing orchids without the proper paperwork, shipping lobster tails in plastic bags, and even failing to return a library book.  There are over 4,000 existing federal criminal laws.  (The exact number of laws is unknown because the attorneys at Congressional Research Service who were assigned to count them ran out of resources before they could complete the herculean task.)

In addition to the profusion of federal statutory crimes, there are additional state crimes (Texas alone has over 1,700), and federal regulatory offenses (approximately 300,000). The creation of these often unknowable and redundant crimes, the federalization of certain crimes traditionally prosecuted at the state level, and the removal of traditional mens rea requirements all contribute to a relentless trend known as overcriminalization.

 Their Solution:

• Stop creating new criminal offenses as a method of regulating business activities. Regulation is better handled through fines and market forces, not the heavy stigma of criminal sanctions

• Avoid licensing new occupations and revise laws to eliminate criminal penalties that are currently associated with many occupations.

• Ensure that an appropriate culpable mental state is included in the elements of all offenses.

• Return the responsibility for prosecuting and punishing traditional crimes to the states.

• Revise criminal laws to remove ambiguities and consolidate redundant laws to help prevent prosecutorial abuse.

While getting the federal government out of areas where it doesn't belong is certainly a good step, keeping victimless crime laws on the books negates that benefit. State government thuggery is no better than federal government thuggery and if anything thuggery from state governments don't get as much exposure as federal scandals do. Under the Non-Aggression principal their has to be a victim in order for something to be a crime.

Issue Two: Juvenile Justice

The Concern:

 Cost-effective interventions that leverage the strengths of families and communities to reform troubled youths are critical to a successful juvenile justice system. Youths who “slip through the cracks” may remain in the criminal justice system throughout their lives even though some could have been saved by effective policies during pivotal developmental stages.  However, funds should only be spent on programs that are supported by evidence, and risk and needs assessment should be used to ensure that youths who would be most successful in non-residential programs are not placed in costly residential settings.

The Solution: 

• Expand flexibility in funding, so that local jurisdictions may spend funds now used for housing some of their youths in large state youth lockups on less costly community-based programs supported by research.  Effective community-based models include multisystemic therapy, victim-offender mediation, mentoring, vocational programs, and group homes modeled after those in Missouri for youths that require a residential setting.

• Implement evidence-based practices to increase the effectiveness of juvenile probation and parole, such as graduated sanctions that respond to each violation of the rules of supervision with a swift, sure, and commensurate sanction. Graduated incentives should also be employed to reward exemplary conduct. Research has demonstrated graduated responses are far more effective because they send a clear message at the time of the behavior rather than waiting for relatively minor violations to pile up and then applying the ultimate sanction -- revocation to a youth lockup.

• Create policies so that youths are more likely to find employment as adults, reducing the likelihood of recidivating. This may entail, among others, providing additional opportunities for non-violent youth offenders to expunge or decline to disclose records, removing barriers for otherwise qualified applicants with a juvenile record from obtaining occupational licenses, and emphasizing vocational training opportunities for youth offenders.

• Streamline juvenile facilities so that cost savings may be reallocated to other areas of juvenile justice that provide a greater public safety return on the investment. Underutilized facilities, particularly those which are remotely located away from families and qualified treatment personnel, should be closed or consolidated.

• Improve school disciplinary policies so that more misbehavior is corrected at an early stage in school and fewer students drop out or are removed from school and enter the juvenile justice system. Proven approaches include teen courts, community service learning, student behavior contracts, student behavior accounts, and peer mediation.

• Implement policies that require reviews of sentences given to people convicted of crimes committed under age 18 to determine whether, years later, they are fit to return to society.  Victims should be notified about sentencing reviews, which will not guarantee release, but will ensure tax dollars are not wasted on people who have served time in prison for crimes committed as juveniles and no longer pose a threat to society.  This is a fair, cost-effective, age- appropriate way to ensure that juveniles are held accountable for harm they have caused, which offers them an opportunity to redeem themselves.

The only issue that I seem to have here is the lack of criticism of zero-tolerance policies that is rampant in most public schools which certainly doesn't bode with for students who have the occasional mishap. Once cannot deny that zero-tolerance doesn't have affect on students as they get older.

Issue Three: Substance Abuse

The Concern:

In 2006, the United States arrested approximately 1.89 million people for drug-related offenses, up from 581,000 in 1980.  Many of these offenders were incarcerated for non-violent crimes.  They were not immediate threats to public safety, but it was in society’s best interest to ensure that they stopped abusing drugs.  Taxpayers are entitled to ask whether incarceration is accomplishing that goal.

The Solution:

Drug courts are specialty courts with judges who impose supervision, drug testing, treatment, and sanctions upon defendants in lieu of incarceration.  The reduced recidivism rates that result from the use of drug courts benefit public safety, but drug courts can also reduce the burden of incarceration on state budgets because they cost less—between $2,500 and $4,000 annually per offender.  Conservatives favor voluntary drug courts because they provide options for those people who are sincerely committed to taking responsibility to reform their lives.

For example, the HOPE (Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) program, started by a former federal prosecutor in Hawaii, conducts frequent drug tests backed-up by swift and certain sanctions for violations, usually a few days in jail.  They have cut drug use by more than 70% and arrests for new crimes fell by more than 50%. Moreover, when offenders are participating in HOPE, they are taking up far fewer prison beds, and Hawaii can prioritize the space for violent offenders.
The HOPE program recognizes that a drug court should not be a free pass.  Offenders in drug courts should remain under regular monitoring to ensure that they hold jobs, receive treatment, and pay restitution if they have been convicted of a property crime.  As defendants complete the rigorous program of the drug court, they remain outside of prison, and therefore, they should be encouraged to hold a job and support their families.  There are many benefits to this system.  Families stay together more often.  Children are provided for more often.  Burdens on social services systems such as foster care are alleviated.    In some cases, if offenders complete the drug court program to the satisfaction of the judge and the person is not a threat to public safety and was not involved in dealing drugs, the underlying offense can be removed from their record, and thus does not harm their future employment prospects.

There are nearly 2,000 drug courts nationally, and the evidence indicates that they work.  The national recidivism rate of those who complete drug court programs is between 4 and 29 percent.  The control group incarceration rate is 48 percent.  Even those who enter drug courts but do not complete their programs appear to have lower recidivism rates.  In the state of Texas, for example, where approximately 100 drug courts are operating, the re-arrest rate for those who begin but do not complete the drug court program is 40.5 percent, as compared to the 58.5 percent rate in the Texas control group.

In drug courts, America has found not only a solution to an important public policy problem, it has hit yet again upon an essential conservative truth – the power of personal responsibility and accountability. Drugs courts are not suitable for every convicted defendant, but neither is imprisonment.

The answer to any type of drug abuse crimes is to get rid of them completely. People should not be punished for ingesting whatever substance they want into their own bodies. The drug war is nothing but a colossal failure, a waste of money and a contributor to the militarization of domestic police forces. Drug courts is just a shuffling of resources which should be used in the prosecution of crimes with actual victims. As for the drain of social services, the solution to that is to get the state out of the social service business.

Issue Four: Adult Probation

The Concern:

When spending taxpayer money on criminal justice, it is counterproductive and wasteful to enact policies that create more criminals, rather than enacting policies that reduce the incidence of crime. Taxpayers do not always benefit from sending low-risk offenders, especially first-time nonviolent felons, to prison. In prison, the offender is surrounded by other felons and removed from his family and community. Because the offender is unable to work and earn income, he may be unable to pay adequate restitution to the victim of the crime. Moreover, when he is released, he will be forced to transition back to life outside of prison, with the additional stigma of having been sent to prison. If he does not transition effectively, the state will quite possibly have transformed a low-risk nonviolent offender into a career criminal.  In effect, taxpayers will have spent more money to become less safe.

As Mark Earley and Newt Gingrich have noted, “[j]ust as a student’s success isn’t measured by his entry into high school but by his graduation…celebrating taking criminals off the street with little thought to their imminent return to society is foolhardy."

The Solution:

• For low-level drug offenders with no violent prior crimes or sex offenses, in lieu of incarceration consider requiring probation with drug or psychiatric treatment.

• Research and utilize evidence-based best practices, such as risk assessments, to determine which offenders are low-risk for recidivism and thus better served by conditional probation.

• Enhance the use of problem-solving courts, such as drug courts, DWI courts, etc. These courts can provide specialized oversight and victim-offender mediation that present a low-cost alternative to incarceration.

• Give victims the right, upon request, to be informed of relevant proceedings, attend those proceedings, and express a preference to the prosecutor on the type of sentence.

• Institute performance-based funding for probation departments. Local probation departments that are successful should receive additional funds in order to further develop their methods. Other departments will adopt proven successful methods in order to qualify for enhanced funding.

As stated above, eliminating the drug war eliminates alot of return offenders. 

Issue Five: Parole and Re-Entry

The Concern:

"Reentry” is the term used to describe the process of reintegrating criminal offenders back into their communities. A proper parole system must include effective reentry programs. If not, a state will have spent money to incarcerate and release an offender without making any effort to limit his or her potential to re-offend. This would not serve public safety interests, and it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Solution:

• Use evidence-based methods, such as risk assessments, to determine who would benefit from parole and who would not benefit.

• Allow parole only for certain non-violent offenders, and encourage the use of intermediate sanctions facilities, rather than prisons, for these parolees when they commit technical violations rather than new crimes.

• Utilize GPS technology to monitor those on parole, which is more efficient and effective than phone check-in.

• Expand the use of ignition interlock devices for DWI offenders who are on parole.

• Implement cost-effective technologies (such as bracelets) which monitor blood-alcohol levels through an offender’s sweat and continuously send the results back to parole officers.  Also, consider requirements that offenders regularly be tested for sobriety in-person (e.g., South Dakota's 24-7 Sobriety Program).  

• Reduce the potential tort liabilities to employers for negligent hiring suits. Reduced tort liability will make employers more likely to hire parolees. Statistics show that parolees with good, steady jobs are less likely to reoffend.

Its good to know that conservatives are consistent with their dislike for the fourth amendment so this isn't all that surprising. If conservatives want to abuse a person's fourth amendment rights, then why let that person out of prison, seems counter-productive.

Issue Six: Law Enforcement

The Concern:

CompSTAT, which stands for Computer Statistics or Comparative Statistics, was launched in New York City and is perhaps the best-known technological innovation in law enforcement. CompSTAT has two components. The first is software-intensive, and it uses real-time crime data to quickly allocate police resources to crime “hot spots” in cities. The second element, which concerns managerial techniques, decentralizes authority to precinct commanders and holds them accountable for changes in the crime rate within their jurisdiction. City police leaders meet with commanders on a frequent basis to discuss data findings and to plan patrol activity. These methods increase the number of criminals apprehended, but perhaps more importantly, studies suggest that the strong and visible police presence has a deterrence effect. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani partly credits CompSTAT with the 62 percent drop in the crime rate in New York from 1993 to 2001.

Another well-known – but not widely enough adopted – technology is Chicago’s Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting (CLEAR). The CLEAR database contains millions of incident reports and other information that officers can query using wireless, touchscreen notebooks in their cars. The data allows officers to instantly check suspects against the database of fugitives, parolees, and offenders who are wanted on warrants. A mug shot, for example, can be accessed in just seconds – rather than four days. Most significantly, CLEAR empowers community policing. Citizens use a website to find out who is policing their neighborhood so that they can efficiently relay leads about criminal activity. Chicago’s murder rate dropped from 22.1 per 100,000 in 2002 to 15.5 in 2004 following the implementation of CLEAR. The number of robberies has also declined nearly 30 percent from 2000 to 2007. Because fewer Chicagoans have been incarcerated since 1999, it is not incarceration that is yielding results. More likely, it is Chicago’s innovations in law enforcement, including CLEAR.

The Solution:

• Increase the utilization of data-driven policing and related performance measures such as CompSTAT and CLEAR.

• Involve private security in data-driven policing to expand the knowledge base and expedite responses.

• Expand the use of GPS monitoring of parolees and probationers.

Until conservatives actually decide to address or at the very least acknowledge the increased militarization of police forces any calls for reform are as empty as an Obama speech. While police smarter would be a significant improvement in general the massive lack of accountability of police officers (and prosecutors for that matter) who abuse their power is still the elephant in the room.

Issue Seven: Prisons

The Concern:

Prisons serve a critical role in society. In many cases – particularly cases of violent crime – the best way to handle criminal behavior is to incapacitate criminals by incarcerating them. Prisons are supremely important, but they are also a supremely expensive government program, and thus prison systems must be held to the highest standards of accountability.

The Solution:

• Understand that to be considered “successful,” a prison must reduce recidivism among inmates.

• Increase the use of custodial supervision alternatives such as probation and parole for nonviolent offenders. In many cases, these programs can also be linked to mandatory drug addiction treatment and mental health counseling that would prevent recidivism. States' daily prison costs average nearly $79.00 per day, compared to less than $3.50 per day for probation.

• Consider geriatric release programs when appropriate. Approximately 200,000 American prisoners are over the age of fifty. The cost of incarcerating them is particularly high because of their increased health care needs in old age, and their presence has turned some prisons into de facto nursing homes for felons – all funded by taxpayer.

• Consider eliminating many mandatory minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent offenses. These laws remove all discretion from judges who are the most intimately familiar with the facts of a case and who are well-positioned to know which defendants need to be in prison because they threaten public safety and which defendants would in fact not benefit from prison time.

• For those instances when prisons are necessary, explore private prison options. A study by The Reason Foundation indicated that private prisons offer cost savings of 10 to 15 percent compared to state-operated facilities. By including an incentive in private corrections contracts for lowering recidivism and the flexibility to innovate, private facilities could potentially not just save money but also compete to develop the most cost-effective recidivism reduction programming.

One of the reasons why prison populations have grown and prisons have become is the drug war among other victimless crimes. In this Reuters article, the author goes into detail on how prison populations are littered with offenders that were charged with having a non-government approved substance with them.

Privatization of prisons is an interesting topic in libertarian circles. While most will agree that government run prisons are not run efficiently if not out right poorly that doesn't mean private prisons should be given the green light. While tax payers might be saving money if a private company where to run prisons there is the danger of seeing a repeat of the Kids for Cash scandal of Pennsylvania.

George Donnelly goes into further detail about private vs government prisons. While I disagree with him on that prisons should exist. I believe there needs to be a place to hold violent criminals, he does make some good points.

Issue Eight: Victim

The Concern:

When a property crime or a violent crime occurs, the primary aggrieved party is the individual victim, not the government, and thus the compensation should go primarily to the individual victim, not the government.  This idea has been around for centuries, and the concept is found in the sacred texts of nearly every major religion.  In the modern world, however, we have drifted away from this essential truth.  A telling example is the “style” of criminal cases, which are written as ‘Defendant v. [The State],’ rather than ‘Defendant v. [Victim.]’  The case styles reveal that our system now focuses more on prosecuting defendants for the harm they have done to society at large, rather than the harm they have done to their victim.  It is important to pay attention to the effect crime has on society, but we must not neglect the victim’s rights.

In the investigation and prosecution of crimes, victims must be included at every stage and meaningfully empowered. Opportunities for more informal restorative practices should also be considered for non-violent first time offenses.

Informal restorative practices are not likely to displace the modern criminal justice system, due to factors such as population growth, urbanization, and the transient nature of many modern communities.  Nevertheless, a growing body of evidence indicates the benefit – to victims, taxpayers, and offenders – of integrating practices designed to empower and restore victims into today’s criminal justice process.

The Solution:

• The criminal justice system should be structured to ensure that victims are treated with dignity and respect and with the choice to participate, recieve restitution, and even be reconciled with first time non-violent offenders.

• In appropriate cases, enable crime victims to choose pretrial victim-offender mediation.

• Expand victims’ access to offenders’ funds by lowering exemption thresholds that apply to restitution orders when they are converted into civil judgments.

• Use amount and share of restitution actually collected as a performance measure for probation and parole systems.

Not much I can disagree with here. Any type of compensation the criminal has to pay out to the victim should go to the victim alone and not the government. Government shouldn't get a cut of the compensation for just doing it's job in prosecuting justice. 

Overall while Right on Crime has some good ideas on reforming a very broken justice system it leaves holes to be desired and doesn't go far enough.

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