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Monday, February 07, 2011

Right (and Left) on Crime

Thanks to Dan and the Prawfs-folks for the opportunity to share some ideas this month. I've always thought it was interesting how sometimes the extreme left and the right can come together in their support for certain causes.  Generally, the left and right plant themselves on opposite sites of issues, but when we look to the extremes of each side, the liberal and conservative can come full circle and meet at the margins.  What am I talking about?  Well, the best examples that come to mind are homebirthing/ homeschooling (the right: I keep my children home from school because I don't support sex education and other immoral indoctrination, the left: Children should be able to be creative and the I don't want my child subject to the rigid structure of public school), not vaccinating children (right: I don't want to give the government--including the "scary" FDA--power over my children's body; left: those chemicals they are putting into my kids are unnatural, unorganic, and harmful), and the most interesting development of late, that I'm not positive has any right or left to it but often intersects with some proponents of the above, is raising chickens and bees in suburban neighborhoods.  The right do it, again, for independence and self-sufficiency, and the left in order to live an organic, local lifestyle.  (Though, in full disclosure I must admit that a current topic of "discussion" in my house is that my husband would really like to build a chicken coop in our semi-urban backyard and I on the other hand would rather have my yard smell like lilacs than chicken poop.)
But anyway, for those of you that have missed the chicken and bee-raising trends, see here and here (with my favorite quote on the beekeeping side being:  "Each time I have tasted raw, local honey, I have wished that I had my own colony of bees.")  With all of these recent phenomenon, I've seen little discussion that the left and the right have come together on these issues, possibly because they are all still pretty non-mainstream practices and possibly because both sides' reasons for taking up the practice are so diametrically opposed.
This discussion of the bees and chickens and homebirthing naturally bring another question to mind: Are there issues where the left and right can agree upon and meet in the middle?  Because obviously the right and left don't just meet at the margins.  Well, there is some talk of late that the right and left may come together in the middle on crime. 
With the economy in the dumps, almost every state struggling with a budget crisis, people on both sides of the isle are finally looking at how much incarceration is costing us.  Newt Gingrich and other conservatives have teamed up with a group called Right on Crime and have focused on making the  conservative argument for criminal reform.  What exactly is the 'conservative argument' for reform?  Well, take prisons for instance.  Right on Crime states that we are overincarcerating at the present and this is costing us a lot of money (the left would agree here).  It suggests that we should measure whether prisons are "successful" or not based on their recidivism rates (good idea, go on).  They also want to increase noncustodial supervision programs, let more nonviolent offenders out on release (agreed), consider eliminating mandatory minimum sentences (another great idea), and increase the use of private prisons (wait a minute...).  But for the most part, the left would agree with a lot of the conservative proposals.
The Right on Crime campaign and states who have recently received press for implementing similar reforms are looking at questions like whether long sentences are actually effective in reducing recidivism or making our communities safer.  Some states are successfully implementing alternatives to incarceration and promoting pretrial release that can save the taxpayer money.  
So can the right and left  come together on crime?  Well, to oversimplify things, the right is concerned about budget shortfalls and the fact that many states spend more on corrections than on other important goals like education.  And the left is concerned about the rights of defendants, the racial implications of incarcerating a large proportion of the black population, and whether incarceration is really effective in stopping future crime.  While the goals may be different, the solution for both sides may be the same.  Stop overcriminalization.  End mass incarceration.  Create alternatives to prison and jail.  Release more defendants on bail before they get trapped in the system.  And so on.
While some may be suspicious of trusting the right on crime because of general suspicion of motives (or because Newt Gingrich maybe running in 2012), I think a recent Pew poll on this topic is enlightening.  The LA Times recently reported that in polls of 1,200 U.S. voters, the public suggested that the most effective approach in dealing with crime reform would be to focus on successes realized so far (especially in Texas since it has a tough-on-crime reputation) and to avoid arguments on "racial justice concerns."  
While it may be disheartening for the left to hear that many Americans may not be persuaded to stop overcriminalization and mass incarceration based on a concern for racial justice or defendants' rights, maybe there is something for the left to learn here as well.  When it comes to crime, conservative arguments about what actually works and how that affects the bottom-line may be more likely to create change in criminal justice.  And regardless of why you have a bee colony in your backyard, the honey that results will still be sweet.

Posted by Shima Baradaran Baughman on February 7, 2011 at 09:55 AM in Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs | Permalink


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As a homebirther, homeschooler, vaccine slow-poke and someone who had chickens (before the HOA forced us to get rid of them) and would LOVE to have bees [also you forgot drinkers of raw milk -- another area of massive overlap], I have noticed the bizarre overlap between far right and far left (my side) on these issues -- it certainly makes for strange bedfellows. Looks like the criminal law is another such area, but the trouble is no politician is on this extreme, so much ado about nothing unfortunately.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 8, 2011 12:17:40 PM

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