A significant number of cities in the United States reported an increase in homicide rates in 2015—a disturbing trend that some have claimed marks the end of a period that saw historic reductions in violent crimes in places like New York City and Chicago. A handful of policymakers, including former presidential candidate Marco Rubio, have used these statistics as a basis for opposing current legislation seeking to institute criminal justice reforms.
Such a response to the recent uptick in homicides in select urban areas is short-sighted, says Craig DeRoche, who serves as Prison Fellowship’s vice president for advocacy and public policy. Writing an editorial for the Washington Examiner, DeRoche argues that the proposed reforms are exactly what need to be enacted so that law enforcement, courts, and corrections officials can focus on dealing with these more violent crimes, rather than draining resources to deal with less serious crimes that can more effectively be handled on a local level.
“For too long, taxpayers have shouldered the cost of the fastest-growing area of government and greatest increase of centralized state power in America’s history outside of healthcare,” DeRoche says. “What’s needed now is not a return to the past, but a fresh vision for criminal justice.”
DeRoche notes that in jurisdictions where incarceration rates have been most reduced, crime rates have dropped at a faster rate than the national average. “The tough-on-crime policies of the past have already proven to be dead ends,” he says. “They have gotten us the highest incarceration rate in the world, with disproportional sentences for nonviolent and drug-related crimes being primary drivers of the exploding population.”
Failing to move forward on needed reforms based on these recent numbers would be a critical mistake, and would not result in improving public safety, according to DeRoche. “We become safer not when we pursue the policies that have failed us in the past, but when law enforcement officers are freed up to solve serious crimes and take dangerous people off the streets. We become safer when correctional facilities are environments where those who regret their crimes have genuine opportunities to make amends and pursue moral rehabilitation. We become safer when our criminal justice policies are guided by solid comprehensive evidence and enduring values—not the headline of the day.”
By promoting a restorative framework to criminal justice that recognizes the humanity and inherent worth of all those who are impacted by crime and incarceration, Prison Fellowship seeks to create a system that is fair to both victims and prisoners, restores men and women with criminal records as productive members of their communities, and does so in a effective and cost efficient manner.
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