Criminal Justice Reform Involves Difficult Tradeoffs

Overshadowed by the tragic and sustained violence of the past several weeks is the fact that a strong consensus has formed in America on the issues of police reform and criminal justice reform. But any discussion of the ultimate legislative response to this stronger-than-ever consensus must acknowledge the complexities that confront any search for solutions.

In December 2018 President Trump signed the First Step Act, bipartisan legislation that made incremental but nonetheless significant steps forward in criminal justice reform. A year after passage, an article published by NBC News in November 2019 praised this legislative accomplishment but wondered if the the congressional consensus that produced it can hold together. Their concerns were prescient.

More than halfway through 2020, whatever bipartisan alliance that may have existed is shattered. The George Floyd murder by rogue police in Milwaukee, and the unrest that unleashed, should have sent a signal to Congress to work together. The opposite occurred. Partisanship, exaggerated by the intensity of this presidential election season, has killed any chance of further reform this year.

It’s easy enough to assign blame for the failed legislation, but Democrats, who have more to lose politically if Trump signs a new law, appear to be the bigger culprits. After all, it was Democrats and the liberal media who recognized, with their support for the First Step Act, that it was important to make progress even if they couldn’t accomplish everything they wanted. That was then.

What the Republicans offered, rejected by Democrats, […] Read More