There are at least two glaring problems with the president and attorney general’s repeated attempts to resuscitate failed “tough on crime” policies in response to the alleged crime wave. First, there is no national crime wave. And, second, victims of crime believe more rehabilitation and treatment, not more law enforcement and prisons, are the best way to keep our communities safe.
Just this week, a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice shows crime rates in the 30 largest cities declined in the first half of 2017 and violent crime remains on a downward trajectory. These findings directly contradict the rhetoric and actions of the Trump administration. If these rates hold for the remainder of the year, crime will be at its second lowest level since 1990.
What’s more, crime experts, data and science, and, most important, the people directly impacted by crime and violence — survivors of crime — all reject the dangerous myth that tough crime policies protect victims or stop the cycle of crime.
A new national survey commissioned by the Alliance for Safety and Justice shows that the majority of victims oppose the Trump administration’s safety and justice policy priorities. Most crime victims feel less safe since he took office. This holds true across demographic groups except one, only white men feel safer under Trump’s presidency.
On both the causes of crime and the public safety solutions, the survey results paint a picture of an administration that is deeply out of touch with the priorities, needs and experiences of crime survivors. 6 in 10 crime survivors prefer rehabilitation to punishment and overwhelming majorities, across partisan lines, want investments in treatment and prevention more than spending on prisons and jails.
While the administration talks about increasing mandatory minimums, the majority of crime victims (54 percent) believe that drug and alcohol addiction is actually the main driver of crime. Only four percent of victims believe the driver is having too few people in prison.
Crime survivors also flatly reject the administration’s focus on increased deportation as a public safety priority. Only 12 percent of crime victims believe undocumented immigrants are a driver of crime, and just 1 in 10 want increased funding for deportation.
Similarly, victims are far more likely to oppose than support the actions taken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice to increase enforcement of drug offenses and require prosecutors to seek the maximum prison sentence for these crimes. Rather than providing police with military-grade equipment, victims overwhelmingly prefer that the Department of Justice provide training on how to deescalate situations involving people with mental illness and increase funding for diversion programs for people with substance abuse issues.
Crime survivors not only disagree with the policies, survey results reveal most victims also do not trust the intent of the administration in looking to turn back the clock on justice reform. More than half (52 percent) of crime victims believe President Trump is using misinformation and fear for political gain when he says crime is at an all-time high despite national statistics showing the opposite.
The survey results are clear: Most crime survivors find the Trump administration’s approach to safety and justice at the very least misguided, if not outright manipulative.
In its haste to roll back common sense and broadly supported justice reforms that have slowed prison growth and reduced crime, the Trump administration has ignored the facts and research showing that increased incarceration doesn’t make us safer and survivors’ calls for more effective strategies to stop crime cycles.
Unfortunately, there is nothing new about politicians calling for ineffective, so-called “tough on crime” policies in the name of protecting victims. Laws designed to send more people to prison, and keep them there longer, were passed by the federal government and in red and blue states alike during 1980s and ’90s.
For the last two decades, genuine bipartisan consensus has been emerging across the country on criminal justice reform. Democrats and Republicans, in Congress and in the states, increasingly agree that focusing solely on extreme punishment and ignoring crime victims is both ineffective and unfair.
Despite this hard-won progress, the Trump administration is attempting to, once again, thrust the country into a hyper-politicized conversation about crime policy. But fear isn’t a policy; it’s a dodge. And it’s one that fails those who are most harmed by crime and violence. This administration needs to stop using crime survivors as a political pawn and start listening to them.
Lenore Anderson is the founder and President of Alliance for Safety and Justice, and founder and Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice. She is an attorney with extensive experience working to improve our criminal justice system. Lenore was the Campaign Chair and co-author of Proposition 47, a California ballot initiative passed by voters in November 2014 to reduce incarceration and reallocate prison spending to mental health, drug treatment, K-12 programs and victim services.