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Crime Wave Could Doom Justice Reforms

James Antle of the Washington Examiner reports that a recent spike in crime could have a negative impact on bipartisan law enforcement reforms.

A troubling rise in violent crime, including a surge in homicides in major cities across the country, has the potential to upend the emerging bipartisan consensus in favor of policing and criminal justice reform. …

… The bipartisan support for sentencing and policing reforms is fragile and potentially dependent on the past 20 years of relatively low crime.

“After George Floyd, there was a bipartisan moment where everyone said, ‘We need to fix this,’” said Randy Petersen, a senior researcher at Right on Crime, a criminal justice initiative by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “The defunding [the police] movement kind of derailed the bipartisanship of that.”

“How high does the crime rate need to go before Democrats stop their campaign to release violent criminals from prison?” Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, tweeted on Tuesday. He later more directly challenged some of the sentencing reform ideas that have attracted support from lawmakers in both parties in recent years. …

… Former President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act, a major piece of bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, into law in late 2018. But some of his populist supporters derided it as a “jailbreak” bill amid a decline in the influence of the GOP’s libertarian wing, and the appetite for follow-up legislation could be diminished further if crime worsens. …

… Democrats have faced their own divisions on the issue as party operatives blamed “defund the police” for their worse-than-expected electoral performance last year, even though Biden said he opposed the movement. Police reform legislation advocated by Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, stalled after Senate Democrats argued it did not go far enough.

“If there is anybody who can get this done, it’s Tim Scott,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant. “He knows these issues well and is really respected by his colleagues.”

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...