Thousands of harmless activities are now classified as crimes in the United States. These are not typical common law crimes such as murder, rape, or theft. Instead they encompass a series of business activities such as importing orchids without the proper paperwork, shipping lobster tails in plastic bags, and even failing to return a library book.
Civil asset forfeiture is a mechanism used by law enforcement that allows them need to meet a very low burden of proof before being able to seize property from individual citizens and businesses. The assets can then be repurposed, often providing funding for the very law enforcement agency that seized it. While forfeiture began as a way to put criminal gains to a useful purpose, this government function has been expanded much too far, and now endangers individual rights and the integrity of law enforcement.
Cost-effective interventions that leverage the strengths of families and communities to reform troubled youths are critical to a successful juvenile justice system. However, funds should only be spent on programs that are supported by evidence, and risk and needs assessment should be used to ensure that youth who would be most successful in non-residential programs are not placed in costly residential settings. If a juvenile program can prevent a delinquent youth from becoming a career criminal, it is obviously a positive moral outcome for society, as it avoids future victims.
Taxpayers do not always benefit from sending low-risk offenders, especially first-time nonviolent felons, to prison. In prison, the offender is surrounded by other felons and removed from his family and community. When implemented appropriately, probation presents an alternative to incarceration for certain low-risk offenders.
“Reentry” describes the process of reintegrating criminal offenders back into their communities. A proper parole system must include effective reentry programs. If not, a state will have spent money to incarcerate and release an offender without making any effort to limit his or her potential to re-offend. If used wisely, parole – the supervised release of prison inmates before the end of their sentence – can help transition offenders into lives as free men and women.
Recent technological advances, particularly in rapid computation and data analysis, have revolutionized virtually every aspect of American life. The business world has been similarly enriched by important innovations in management theory. All these developments can and should be widely applied to the world of law enforcement.
Prisons serve a critical role in society. In many cases – particularly cases of violent crime – the best way to handle criminal behavior is to incapacitate criminals by incarcerating them. Prisons are supremely important, but they are also a supremely expensive government program, and thus prison systems must be held to the highest standards of accountability.
When a property crime or a violent crime occurs, the primary aggrieved party is the individual victim, not the government, and thus the compensation should go primarily to the individual victim, not the government. Our system now focuses more on prosecuting defendants for the harm they have done to society at large, rather than the harm they have done to their victim. It is important to pay attention to the effect crime has on society, but we must not neglect the victim’s rights.
Criminal justice is a vast field, and important new public policy issues are constantly emerging. Watch this space for the latest news and research about unique areas of conservative criminal justice reform.