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We Don't Need Criminal Justice Reform. Here's Why.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

They’re back. The usual suspects are behind a push in Washington, D.C. to paint violent, career criminals as some sort of group worthy of our sympathy. It is nothing more than a propaganda-based campaign designed to open the prison doors and return career criminals back into circulation. A nationwide prison strike by inmates is being organized by radical leftist activist groups like the International Workers Organizing Committee, a socialist labor union and local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America.  These criminal coddling activists continue a push toward normalizing otherwise criminal behavior. The ultimate objective is to build the nest of likely Democrat voters by pushing to restore the voting eligibility of yet another disparate demographic after their release from prison.

What is most disappointing is that some GOP members of Congress have been duped into joining forces with criminal apologist Democrats in an obvious attempt to flaunt their sensitivity to the plight of criminals in hopes of gaining approval from liberals. It’s called virtue signaling. They won’t get that courtesy and shame on them for believing such.

The GOP owns the moral high ground on law and order, safe neighborhoods and support for police. Why they would cede that high ground to score a few cheap political points is beyond me. No one in the conservative or GOP base or the American public at large is clamoring for softening views on crime and violence. This so-called reform is led by radical anti-government forces. And, it’s dangerous policy.

A jail inmate strike has been organized and has received sympathetic inmate coverage from big liberal news outlets like the Washington Post, New York Magazine and BBC World News who attempt to rebrand these miscreants from criminals into victims of some racist, oppressive criminal justice system. Hyperbolic references like comparing imprisoning serious law breakers to modern day slavery is an insult to former slaves whose only crime was having black skin, not continually raping, robbing and pillaging a community.

The biggest injustice is that there is no counterbalance in discussions about criminal justice reform. Only advocates for convicted criminals are represented. Victim rights advocacy groups have been shut out. As a former sheriff, I have worked extensively with and on behalf of victims' rights groups like Parents of Murdered Children nationally and locally in Milwaukee County with survivors of homicide victims. These survivors continue to live with, maybe even for the rest of their lives, the psychological trauma and grief of losing a loved one to a criminal predator. Think of all the crime where no arrest has been made. I tell politicians to put themselves in a crime victim’s shoes instead of a criminal perpetrator. I tell them to ask some convenience store clerk what it’s like to stare down the barrel of a pistol as they tremble in fear after being ordered to empty the cash register.

Prisons house the worst of the worst offenders. Other than for murder, forcible rape and a few other offenses, it takes a long time of offending to actually end up in prison. With a prison sentence, society has finally had enough of someone’s criminal behavior and has no other option but to separate them from law abiding society. Before ending up in prison, most offenders have been the beneficiaries of alternatives to incarceration behavior modification, job training or other second chance program. Nothing worked. The overwhelming majority of prison inmates are violent offenders and not incarcerated for minor drug offenses as we are misled to believe. One outspoken inmate leading the prison strike who was quoted has been in custody in an Alabama facility for 20 years. Trust that he is not locked up for shoplifting, vehicle theft or other property crime.

Convicted criminals have already received their justice. They all had competent counsel and afforded their constitutional protections. They were duly convicted. Many more received watered down sentences in plea deals that dismissed many of the offenses they were originally charged with including gun and more serious drug charges. This plea bargain lowered their exposure to how long they would be sentenced to confinement. That’s criminal justice.

The list of grievances about the conditions inside prison walls raises another issue. It’s called prison for a reason. In addition to protecting society, there has to be some deterrent and punishment effect. The US Supreme Court requires states to provide adequate care including healthcare most law-abiding people struggle to afford. It’s not a country club. I used to remind inmates in the jail I ran that when you are in jail, you will lead a life determined by others. I’d say, “If you don’t like it, then let it be an incentive not to re-engage in behavior that will necessitate your return”. Most return at some point nonetheless.

Commuting sentences, as is being suggested, comes with a cost. Many of these convicted criminals will return to already stressed, high crime and economically depressed cities where there is no support structure for them to thrive. All one has to do for evidence is look at recidivism rates of released crooks. FBI data and other research shows that over 60 percent of released offenders return to what is hard wired into them. They continue their criminal ways. This will mean more crime victims, a strain on already limited police services and ballooning criminal court calendars.

It’s not justice until the victim’s needs are met.

David A. Clarke Jr. is former Sheriff of Milwaukee County, WI. He serves as Distinguished Chair of American Law and Culture at Capital Research Center, a Washington D.C. think tank.

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