Somewhere in the long, tortuous route of the primary season that led to the certification of Donald J. Trump as America’s 45th President, the issue of criminal justice reform came up.  Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton talked about getting rid of “Three Strikes and You’re Out” policies, eliminating mandatory jail minimums, allowing judges to have more flexibility in sentencing, de-criminalizing marijuana possession, reducing private prisons to name a few.   It was an expansive proposal to overhaul our broken criminal justice system as Sanders described it.  The Obama Administration were champions of this trend and Obama was praised by none other than the ultra right wing Koch Brothers for this initiative.  There was even a bill that was introduced in Congress where a bipartisan group of legislators joined together to draft legislation that would have been the most significant criminal justice reform bill in decades.   The bill had 37 co-sponsors in the Senate and 79 co-sponsors in the House.  The bill, however, did not pass.  It was derailed.  

It did not pass largely through the efforts of then Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) who, with the assistance of Steven H. Cook, a Federal Prosecutor in Knoxville, Tennessee, conducted a concerted campaign and railed against the bill at a time when serious crimes were “spiking in many American cities.”  We all heard about this "spike."   Suddenly the media was full of “Murders Spike” stories in Baltimore and Washington and Louisville.  What we didn't know at the time, that it was a "paid for" campaign that turned out to be a supremely successful anti-reform effort.   Now Jeff Sessions is Attorney General of the United States and Steven Cook is now Session's special assistant tasked to undo the criminal justice system policies of the Obama Administration.  Here’s what Cook thinks about the reform movement as he stated at a criminal justice panel spearheaded by the Washington Post last year:  “The Federal Justice System is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed.”  Apparently, Cook, is quite happy that the United States of America imprisons more people than any other country on the entire planet.  Our incarceration rate is 737 per 100,000 people, while second place China tips the scales at 118.  In fact, most country's incarceration rates run between 100 and 200 per 100,000 although Russia – Surprise! – weighs in at a rate of 615. 

Sessions and Cook tell you that the reason why current crime rates are at historic lows having peaked in the 1990’s in the midst of the crack cocaine epidemic is because of the “Get Tough On Crime” and “Three Strikes and You’re Out Policies” that were instituted back then and continue today.  But they are just wrong.  Such policies may have had an impact on crime rates, but the most important factor is the aging of our population, bar none.  Any other impact simply pales into non-relevance.   It’s a statistical reality that most crime is committed by males in the age 12 – 25 cohort (this is a statistical fact, not some populist notion) which happens to correspond to us Baby Boomers coming of age at precisely the time that crime rates skyrocketed in America.  This is the main reason why crime rates have declined so precipitously over that past two decades - an aging population - and has little or nothing to do with Get Tough On Crime policies and incarcerating folks for smoking marijuana on the sidewalks of our urban neighborhoods.   It is simply that we no longer have a large bump of men aged between 12 and 25 years.  Period.  

One of the most powerful arguments for criminal justice reform centers around the anomalies of arrest rates and sentences when applied to minorities, particularly African Americans and Latinos.   Whites are arrested at decidedly lesser rates than Blacks and Latinos for the same crimes and receive far less prison time than their Black and Latino brothers and sisters.  The question is: Why?  If our justice system is supposed to be blind, i.e. everyone is subject to the same rules and punishment for the same crimes, what explains this statistically relevant anomaly ?  Are African Americans and Latinos just more prone to criminal behavior and violence due to some genetic dispensation?  Probably not.  The dichotomy is probably due to institutional racism.  

Yet Session and Cook, just like Trump, apparently don’t believe or don’t pay attention to data, statistics and facts, relying instead on Trump’s declaration that our urban centers are crumbling and there “is such carnage” all across the nation's cities.   Apparently Rust Belters don’t travel the country all that much, or at least don’t visit our urban centers.  I have.  Over that past couple of years I’ve been to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Charleston and Savannah and I can tell you from my first hand, personal experience that all these urban centers are very much alive and well and, in fact, are thriving.  Of course, I suppose that since I don't cotton to Alternate Sets of Facts, I could be wrong. But I can recall when South Beach was a desolate, crime ridden and dangerous place to even stop your car in.  Same with Manhattan.  But this hasn’t been the case for at least a couple of decades now.  South Beach is one of my favorite places to visit and it is full of expensive shops like Dolce and Gabbana and Giorgio Armani, luxury restaurants and multi-million dollar condos as well as exhibiting a particularly wonderful brand of Latin cultural chic.   But don't tell Sessions and Cook. 

Sessions has a hard on for marijuana.  As state after state has de-criminalized its use, eight states and the District of Columbia so far, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug just like heroin and classified as more dangerous than cocaine and amphetamines by Federal Regulations.  The Attorney General is expected to take a hard line on possession, distribution  and use of marijuana and in his recent speeches he has taken a progressively harder line than in the past.  In a recent speech in Richmond, Virginia, he posited that the medical use of marijuana “has been hyped, maybe too much.”  I’m quite sure that all the cancer patients who have gotten relief from the medical use of marijuana would strongly disagree with him.  But, hey, don't let reality interfere with your populist-based program Mr. Attorney General. 

But this is where we are today in Trumpland.  Just like the Muslim Travel Ban and the Mexican Border Wall, the Trump Administration is basing public policy not on data, facts and statistics but on popular, populist depictions of a reality that simply doesn’t exist.   It's not that pubic policy is always precisely aligned with available data.  No.  After all, take Senator XYZ from a state that builds aircraft carriers - there's no way that he or she is going to vote to reduce our defense budget is there? Whatever the cause of the real spike in crimes in cities, our crime rate is still at its lowest point in thirty years.  Why?  Because we no longer have a large population – age group – that causes the bulk of our crimes passing through our midst.  It's really this simple.  They simply no longer exist and will not exist for the foreseeable future.  But don’t tell this to the Attorney General and his special assistant for turning back the clock, Steven Cook, because despite every piece of data to the contrary, America is in the midst of a terrible urban crisis – American carnage, as its called  – even though those of us who live in our cities are actually having some best times of our lives in urban living.   

Score Many For Unhinged Public Policy Initiatives!   This Is What The Trump Administration Is All About!

Note: This piece was taken from a NYT article in Sunday’s paper.  


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