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Monday, March 4, 2024
March 4, 2024

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Jayne: Ignore hype, U.S. not soft on crime

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published:

It is a favorite trope of the nattering nabob set, a narrative designed to generate eye rolls from listeners and create a general sense that political leaders and judges are working against you — the average American.

But it’s not clear that it adds up.

Listening to a conservative talk radio host the other day, I ran across a common discussion thread: “Somebody gets convicted of a heinous crime and then they are let out on a technicality or the Legislature decriminalizes crime or a governor commutes their sentence.”

Or something like that; I am paraphrasing. But the gist is clear: Good Americans want protection from the bad guys and gals, and right-thinking lawmakers pass laws to put criminals in jail, and progressive politicians and activist judges just let them go. There are no consequences. The power structure is endangering you and your family, so you better buy lots of guns to protect yourself.

Generating fear, of course, is the last refuge of conservative ideology, considering that too many conservatives have abandoned all their ideals. So, when cries of “critical race theory” or “socialism” or “government oppression” aren’t enough to scare the populace, you turn to fear-mongering tales of bad guys and insist that soft-on-crime progressives are on the side of the criminals.

It’s not a coincidence that conservative talk radio is overflowing with commercials for gun shows and gun stores and home security systems and computer security and freeze-dried food supplies for when society collapses into an apocalyptic hellscape.

Of course, such products have some value. But it seems that the overriding philosophy of conservative media is that if listeners aren’t afraid, they might take time to look at policy positions and realize that the modern Republican Party doesn’t have any. So we’ll try to stoke your fear.

That is just my interpretation; you might disagree. But the discussion about criminals not being held accountable is thought-provoking.

Indeed, there are plenty of stories about a criminal being released on a technicality. Or of judges making a specious ruling that overturns a conviction or undermines a state law designed to hold the bad guys accountable. Some people present an inherent danger and have no business being part of a free society.

But such “technicalities” usually involve a violation of civil rights. And if we are to believe in the founding documents and the founding philosophy of the United States, then we must believe that those rights are afforded to all the people — even the bad guys.

But that is a discussion for another time. Because the gist of all this is that the trope about criminals not being held accountable doesn’t add up.

The United States has, by some counts, the highest incarceration rate in the world. According to World Population Review, more than 2 million Americans are incarcerated; that works out to 629 out of every 100,000 residents — ranking just ahead of the rate in Rwanda, Turkmenistan, El Salvador and Cuba.

Calculations by other outlets come up with different rankings, but by all accounts the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates, and certainly the highest among large, developed countries. In France, the rate is 119 prisoners per 100,000 people; in Canada it is 104.

We can argue about whether that is too many or too few or just right. But it seems that one of two conclusions — or some combination of them — is inevitable: Either the United States is incarcerating too many people, or we have an inordinate number of lawless goons.

Make no mistake, some people deserve to be locked up, many for a long time. But it would be instructive to examine the causes and conditions that lead people to commit crimes, rather than complaining when a criminal is set free. It would be helpful to wonder why our nation is more violent than other sophisticated countries.

But that would call for self-reflection, and we all know that introspection doesn’t drive ratings as effectively as raising hackles and stoking fear.

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