Criminal Justice Reform

I helped found the Center for Effective Criminal Justice at Texas Public Policy Foundation. The Center focuses on advancing statutory and administrative improvements that move Texas' criminal justice policies toward a focus on restoring victims and communities damaged by crime. It spawned a national movement called "Right on Crime." http://www/rightoncrime.com

Currently, the primary focus is too often defending the power of the government; often the government is even considered the victim of a crime. But crimes happen to people. And if a citizen is injured, government's primary responsibility is to seek restoration of these injuries.

When I spoke at the national conference for the National Network for Safe Communities in 2015, NNSC Director David Kennedy told a fascinating tale of how inner city youth lose respect for the law. He said when he asks how they lost respect for the law he hears the same story repeatedly: "My mom had her groceries stolen, called the police, and after they took the report asked 'will we get our groceries back?' and they laughed." I was astounded, because the story I have used to demonstrate to people the extent to which our criminal justice system has lost its way is very similar. If Party A has their car stolen by Party B, what does Party A want? Answer: their car back and repentance on the part of Party B. What do we do instead? The government throws Party B in jail, impounds the vehicle for evidence, and sends Party A a bill for the incarceration (as well as the related social costs). Party A is mugged twice.

The government's job is to work FOR people and communities, not the other way round. I once saw an episode of a reality TV show called "Bounty Hunters." These fellows were hired by companies to retrieve stolen equipment BEFORE it crossed the border OR was captured by law enforcement (who would impound the equipment for evidence.) They mainly wanted their stuff back. The perpetrator should pay a price too. But non-violent crimes should be recompensed in a way that gets people back into the work force and adding to communities as quickly as possible. Prison only does one thing effectively: incapacitation. Violent people need to be incapacitated. But many, many people in prison are non-violent offenders.

Currently, the primary client of the criminal justice system is not citizens, but government itself. Government as its own client is a threat to personal liberty and an affront to community. Calling our prison system "the department of corrections" is severely misleading at best.

Speaking philosophically, the pinnacle of community life is when people cooperate with one another to serve each other's best interest. Loving your neighbor as yourself is the bedrock of civil society.  And real love is only possible when it is uncoerced. The criminal justice system cannot make people love one another. But what it can do is seek the maximum opportunity for free associations and community harmony with the minimum application of coercive force.