Last week, I urged the president not to embrace the “criminal justice reform” (in quotes because there’s really no justice
in it) currently working its way through Congress. Since then, I’ve been disappointed to watch him go ahead and embrace it, so this week, I’ll address how and why I suspect that he has been misled into embracing it and why Senators Tom Cotton and John Kennedy and others are right to remain skeptical of it.
Proponents’ main and best argument in favor of “criminal justice reform” is based on “studies” which have found, for instance, weak or no correlations between X) the frequencies with which mandatory minimum sentences are imposed, and Y) the frequencies with which crimes carrying those sentences are committed (i.e., they’ve found no clear relationships whereby, when the frequencies with which mandatory minimum sentences are imposed go up, the frequencies with which the associated crimes occur go down). Accordingly, proponents argue that, “Studies show mandatory minimum sentences don’t deter crime,” and that such sentences, therefore, serve no purpose but to over-punish criminals at unnecessary costs to us taxpayers and — cue the violins — to the criminals’ dependents and to the criminals themselves.
Well, I’m here to tell you and the president why that’s wrong.
First of all, anytime you’re told that “studies” show something which defies logic and common sense, be skeptical.
People with agendas can find or conduct “studies” which show just about anything. Last month, socialists masquerading as “scientists” were all over the mainstream media demanding that we abandon private property rights in the name of “man-made climate change,” citing an apocalyptic new global-warming study.
Now, I’m a social scientist, not a climate scientist, but within a couple of hours’ drive from my home in Kansas, you can see both giant fish fossils, deposited when the area was covered by a tropical sea, and the Flint Hills, formed when the area was covered by glaciers millions of years later — i.e., you can see evidence that, before we humans arrived, the place was both a lot warmer and a lot cooler than it is now. Accordingly, logic and common sense dictate that the place has been warming up and cooling off since it has existed and that this cycle likely will continue whether we embrace socialism or not (and I say, let’s not!). And, surprise, less than a month later, that study’s authors have been forced to admit that their methodology was fundamentally and fatally flawed.
Second, you’ve probably heard that correlation does not prove causation, but in case you haven’t, consider this: a proponent of Nancy Pelosi’s return as Speaker of the House of Representatives could conduct a “study” correlating sunrises with the days during which Pelosi was Speaker previously and could argue, “When Pelosi was Speaker previously, the sun rose every single day; therefore, she must be reinstated as Speaker to ensure that the sun continues to rise.” And the nonsense of that, hopefully, would be obvious.
Perhaps less obvious is that the absence of correlation does not preclude causation. If it exists in some instances but not others, and/or, if it’s determined by a combination of influences interacting with one another, then causation can exist without correlation (i.e., one thing can be causing another, at least sometimes and/or partly, without there being a clear, linear correlation between the two things).
Now, as I explained last week, rational human beings do respond to incentives; their behavior is shaped by its expected consequences. Accordingly, if a would-be criminal is not deterred by a severe penalty for a crime that he's contemplating, then one of two things must be true: either A) he's not rational, which is unlikely (most criminals actually are rational — virtually none are innocent by reason of insanity — and they're rationally self-interested; in fact, they're excessively self-interested, to the point of feeling entitled to break the law to get what they want), or B) he expects not to receive the severe penalty (that's a lot more likely). And why might he expect not to receive the severe penalty? Again, two possible reasons: 1) he expects not to be caught (the same narcissists who think they're entitled to break the law often also overestimate how clever they are), or 2) he expects that, if he's caught, he'll receive a less-severe penalty.
And why might he expect that, if he's caught, he'll receive a less-severe penalty? Once again, two possible reasons: a) he expects that he'll be able to plea bargain (i.e., he’ll be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser crime — which is all to common in America, even when there’s evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt—and he’ll receive a lesser penalty for the lesser crime), and/or, b) he expects leniency (which also is all too common in America) from the judge who sentences him, perhaps in part because he — the criminal — is unaware of a mandatory minimum sentence. So, even if would-be criminals were not being deterred by mandatory minimum sentences, that would not be reason to get rid of mandatory minimum sentences — instead, it'd be reason to do the following:
1) Reallocate resources to law enforcement so more criminals expect to be caught (which does not have to mean raising taxes — I said reallocate; again, law enforcement is domestic national security, and national security is government’s foremost priority),
2) Reduce plea bargaining by putting/keeping more prosecutors in office who don't make deals to avoid trying cases when they've got ample evidence to obtain convictions,
3) Tie lenient judges' hands by keeping/increasing mandatory minimum sentences and by banning concurrent sentencing (forcing criminals convicted of multiple crimes to serve each sentence for each crime consecutively), and
4) Publicize all of the above so every kid in America learns that crime leads to a miserable life, both behind bars and — if an inmate's lucky enough to ever get out—afterward as well, when his only viable option to feed/clothe/house himself likely will be some sort of back-breaking menial labor.
If we did all of the above, it’s tough to imagine it not deterring many, many would-be criminals. But regardless, mandatory minimum sentences certainly do deter, at least, those criminals who are currently serving them — it’s tough for a criminal to commit another crime against a law-abiding American so long as that criminal remains separated from law-abiding Americans by bars and steel.
So why, then, would proponents of "criminal justice reform" tell us that mandatory minimum sentences have no deterrent effect?
As I explained last week, some of them are simply misguided “bleeding hearts” whose compassion is misdirected toward criminals. Others know that I'm right about this, but relaxing penalties for crimes is part of their broader agenda. Many of them are partisan activists who simultaneously are trying to get felons' voting rights restored, which they're doing not because they're just altruistically interested in felons' "rights" but because they expect that felons who vote will vote for the party, the candidates, and the initiatives which those activists support. (And you might want to find out which party, candidates, and initiatives such activists support in your jurisdiction, because the party, candidates, and initiatives preferred by felons perhaps ought not to be the party, candidates, and initiatives preferred by you!)
But why would the president buy into this “criminal justice reform”?
I suspect that it’s a direct result of his son-in-law and trusted advisor Jared Kushner buying into it. And while I don’t doubt that Kushner truly — albeit erroneously — is convinced that it’s the right thing to do, I remain hopeful that the president ultimately will listen less to Kushner and more to the instincts which have served him well in so many other policy decisions — instincts which favor personal responsibility and true justice over entitlement and excuses.
Meanwhile, I’m hopeful that Senators Cotton and Kennedy — and other legislators whose first and foremost sympathies rightly lie with law-abiding Americans — will continue to be voices of reason on this issue in Congress.
Brian Russell wanted to learn how people could live together as peacefully and prosperously as possible, so he studied what makes us tick (and got a Ph.D. in clinical psychology), how public policy keeps us in line (and got a law degree), and what motivates us to do our best (and got an M.B.A.). Then, he put theory to the test, practicing both psychology and law, starting his own small businesses, consulting with business leaders and lawmakers, and traveling the world comparing what does and doesn’t work in 40 societies. Now, he shares his expertise in people, public policy, and productivity on national television and radio, in his book, "Stop Moaning, Start Owning: How Entitlement Is Ruining America and How Personal Responsibility Can Fix It," and here on Newsmax. Learn more at DrBrianRussell.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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