In his first address to Congress, President Donald Trump covered a wide range of issues facing the US, including crime rates. Though many in the media have greatly exaggerated the death of criminal justice reform, mere imprecise messaging by the President does not spell the end of the good reform work that makes Americans safer. With his most recent speech, it is clear that there is still promise for an improved criminal justice system based on Right on Crime principles.
There are three important elements of what President Trump said on criminal justice that ring true with our Statement of Principles. First, he made it clear that the system is meant to protect the American people and enhance public safety. This may seem obvious, but without that goal in mind, we wind up with a system that enhances punishment for its own sake or releases the wrong offenders too soon because of a singular concern over incarceration rates. Right on Crime reforms have always reflected the evidence that brings us to a safer society. And we recognize that as the President noted, violent crime significantly increased last year (fixing his previous imprecise use of language on the statistics). But as the overall crime rates remain at historic lows, there is not much that must be changed to the reform efforts as a whole, but rather focus on the communities that are still struggling with violent crime.
Second is President Trump’s message that we must work with law enforcement. Right on Crime has several law enforcement signatories, and we work with countless organizations and individuals in dozens of states who have worked in the system trying to improve public safety. These men and women are the ones who face crime day to day, on the street or in the courtroom. There are few better suited to help the rest of us learn what would make their jobs easier and allow them to make us all safer.
Finally, the President is increasing efforts to give victims and their families a voice—an effort Right on Crime has made a priority since its inception. Though his specific call was for crimes perpetrated by illegal aliens, the spirit of this action reminds us that victims—not the state—are the ones afflicted by crime, and the one’s deserving of restitution. As Tim Dunn put it in our anniversary video celebrating ten years of justice reform in Texas, if something is stolen from you, the government takes it, “impounds it for evidence, throws [the offender] in jail and sends you a bill for it. So, you didn’t get justice. The focus is not on you. We’re building government power, but we’re not protecting the citizens.”
A White House that holds these principles in mind is one that will lead to great reforms at the federal level that will reflect Right on Crime’s work in the states.
(Photo credit: Jim Bourg/Reuters)