The numbers are in, and they paint a pretty clear picture of the Obama administration’s approach to law and order in America: It hasn’t worked.
I’m being too kind.
It has been an utter catastrophe.
Now, this is simply my gut reaction as a guy who has spent his entire adult life involved in law enforcement in one manner or another. I’m just a guy with a bachelors degree in Criminal Justice and a masters degree in Public Policy Administration. I’m only a fella who talks to cops who investigate crimes every day. So, this is not a peer reviewed, academically vetted, lab tested, clinical finding.
The criminologists, social scientists and other various Poindexters will analyze these numbers and come up with a theory as to what they might possibly, hypothetically, perhaps mean after 10 or 15 years of academic examination.
For me – a street cop first and foremost – I can tell you more quickly and much more cheaply: Taking it easy on criminals and hard on police has made America extraordinarily unsafe. I’ve written extensively about “The Ferguson Effect” in my columns and in my book, but right now I want to zero in on “The Obama Effect.”
We’ve all watched – sort of helplessly – as crime, particularly violent crime, has skyrocketed all across America. Some of it really is caused by the post-Ferguson era, where criminals are emboldened and cops are reluctant to do their jobs. Some of it is that there are fewer cops in America’s biggest, most violent cities, where attrition and recruiting problems in the wake of “The War On Police” have left urban police departments 10 percent understaffed or worse. But a lot of it is due to Obama-era criminal justice reforms.
Take the recently released DOJ stats on prison population, for instance. In 2015, the number of incarcerated American adults fell to its lowest level since 1994. Also, 2015 saw the largest year-to-year decrease in the U.S. prison census since 1978.
I don’t need to be an endowed professor of Eggheadology to tell you that there is an indisputable correlation between the sharp decline in U.S. prison population and the marked increase in violent crime in our country.
Much of this neo-leniency swirls around the idea that we have too many “non-violent offenders” in American prisons, particularly, drug offenders. It’s not just weak-wristed liberals that have embraced this notion.
In 2010, when I was still a Missouri state representative, the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court delivered the annual State of the Judiciary address to a joint-session of the Missouri Legislature where he bemoaned the “broken strategy of cramming inmates into prison” and implored lawmakers to take action to unburden the penal system of non-violent offenders. The chief justice was appointed by a Republican governor – arch-conservative John Ashcroft – and he was considered to be the most conservative member of Missouri’s high court at the time. His remarks got cheers from both sides of the aisle.
But not from me. Never from me.
This is the intellectual trap, isn’t it? Jailing fellow human beings is barbaric, right? We’re better than that, right? No, we’re not. Nor should we be.
Life behind bars is ugly, grim and cruel, as well it must be. That’s because it is crueler still to turn the worst members of our society loose on an unsuspecting public.
Here is the sad reality: Prison is the right place for almost everybody occupying one. In fact, we under-incarcerate rather than over-incarcerate in this country. We have a mamby-pamby criminal justice system that gives people who commit horrible, horrible acts over and over again one chance after another until there is finally no option left but incarceration.
I’ve seen this firsthand. Virtually nobody in America goes to jail when they commit their first felony unless it’s murder. Maybe. Instead, we apply progressively harder slaps on the wrist using probation, diversion programs, treatment programs, alternative sentencing, shock-time sentencing – any number of strategies to signal to people who already believe that we have a system where it is nearly impossible to get caught committing a crime and even harder to get jailed for committing one that they are right. I was a cop for 17 years including five years as an undercover narcotics detective – and what offense have I seen more people jailed for than any other? Probation violation.
Granted, most of those probation violations were for drug crimes, which takes us right back to this notion of non-violent drug offenders swelling the population of our penitentiaries. Who, may I ask, decided that drug offenses were non-violent?
Selling an overdose-prone drug like heroin to someone is an act of violence. Manufacturing methamphetamine with all the explosive hazards and toxic fumes the process produces is an act of violence. Engaging in the crack cocaine trade with all the gun trafficking, prostitution, addiction and murder for hire that goes along with it is an act of violence. And, just because a cop locks a person up for a drug offense, it doesn’t mean that he or she wasn’t involved in all kinds of other unseemly acts. Sometimes, the drug rap is the only case cops can make. Income tax evasion was the only case the feds could make against Al Capone after years of tracking him even though Capone was one of the most violent criminals in U.S. history. So, was it wrong to incarcerate a non-violent offender like poor, little Al?
For Obama, much of this is about the disparate sentencing of crack cocaine dealers because, as he sees it, the federal guidelines were unfairly stacked against African-Americans because they were considerably more likely to be involved in slinging crack. The fact is, the “crack wars” of the 1990s was one of the most violent periods in U.S. history. Even Bill Clinton saw that and did something about it. That was back in the day when being tough on crime was a bipartisan approach, of course.
Recall what Bill Clinton said at a Hillary rally last year when he was harangued by Black Lives Matter protesters about his crime bill: “I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out on the street to murder other African-American children. You are defending the people who kill the people whose lives you say matter. Tell the truth!”
Clinton was right – Bill not Hillary – and Obama is wrong. But President Obama always knows better than the rest of us, so he has commuted the sentences of almost every African-American doing federal time under the old crack-cocaine sentencing guidelines. Many of them went back to their old stomping grounds: Chicago. How’s that working out?
Obama didn’t stop there with pardons and commutations. If fact, he is No. 1 among U.S. presidents in at least one category: clemency. He pardoned or commuted more sentences than – are you ready for this – Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II combined. COMBINED!
No wonder our prisons are emptying. No wonder our streets are red with the blood of the innocent. Coddling criminals only produces more crime.
Thankfully, the next president seems to have figured this out. God save us all if he hasn’t.