The Changing Definition of “Law and Order”

Conservative thinking about crime and “law and order” is changing. When I wrote about overcrowding in Richmond city jail earlier this year, I had little inkling that there was a larger, national conservative movement to re-evaluate ways to reduce jail and prison populations. But it turns out there was. I was surprised to find that Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli were in the forefront of the movement here in Virginia (although some of their efforts to reform the system were stymied by other conservatives in the General Assembly).

Now the Washington Post has taken notice of the fact that Cuccinelli — showing “a side of himself seemingly at odds with his reputation as a tough law-and-order conservative” — had personally championed the exoneration of  Thomas Haynesworth, wrongfully convicted of rape, and now argues “that a frugal government should be more discerning about whom it puts behind bars.”

I can’t speak for the rest of Virginia but here in the Richmond region, the City of Richmond has lead the way in re-thinking the criminal justice system. David Hicks, an aide to Mayor Dwight Jones, Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring and Sheriff C.T. Woody — all Democrats — have done a superb job figuring out how to reduce the prison population while also protecting the public from violent predators. Their work, which focuses on non-violent offenders, the mentally ill and pre-trial inmates, could serve as a model for other localities.

It appears that jail and prison reform is a rare instance of an idea that transcends partisan rivalries. Ds and Rs, liberals and conservatives, can  agree that it makes fiscal sense to reduce the number of inmates, whose incarceration costs taxpayers $25,o00 a year. It makes sense to treat the mentally ill in programs designed for the mentally ill, not to throw them in jail. It makes sense to help substance abusers kick the habit that drives them to petty criminality. It makes sense to reform bail-bond procedures that keep thousands of inmates across the state in jail without making it any more likely they will appear in court.

Crime is no longer a primary concern of Virginians, so enacting these reforms probably won’t be the top priority of many leigslators. But re-engineering the criminal justice system is something that likely can be accomplished without a lot of partisan rancor. We ought to do it.


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5 responses to “The Changing Definition of “Law and Order””

  1. Les Schreiber Avatar
    Les Schreiber

    Please check out this week’s edition ‘The Economist”magazine. You know that radical lefty rag from London.They have two good articles on this issue of punishment in the US. They are critical of AG Holder for not going far enough to reform the system.

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    I am not amazed that Cuccinelli supported Haynesworth. I am amazed that 4 of the 10 judges on Virginia’s Court of Appeals ruled against issuing a writ of actual innocence.

    But, as Mary Sue Terry once publicly remarked while Virginia’s Attorney General, “Evidence of innocence is irrelevant.”

  3. re: ” a larger, national conservative movement to re-evaluate ways to reduce jail and prison populations. ”

    umm… I’m not aware of long-standing “liberal” … “lock em up and throw away the key ” ideas… lemme see.. George Allen comes to mind.

    there NEVER WAS bi-partisan rancor – it was always the guys on the right who had the “lock em up” fire in their bulbous bellies….

    in fact – to this day – if you wanna talk about who actually gets sent to prison for what offenses in terms of race – the “conservatives” still have great angst in looking at the problem in those terms.

    and who is it in Va that still opposes restoring voting and other rights to those released – even those whose crimes were non-violent drug-related?

    it seems to me that the Conservatives these days cannot move an inch unless they “tidy up” (revise) the history so they fit into “better”. just saying…

  4. lemme see.. the Conservatives have finally decided that it’s okay to be “soft on crime” gee willikers… who’d a thunk it!

  5. What I think might work for youthful/first-time offenders is a couple days in jail, coupled with non-custodial punishments. And by a couple, I mean about two. That just might create some deterrence.

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