Do not reverse the consequences for criminals | Editorials
Pete Lee’s quest to reinvent Colorado’s court system reminds us of the motorist who obstructs rush-hour traffic in the left-turn lane so he can ceremoniously lavish a $ 10 bill on a professional beggar in the median. But with much more serious consequences, of course.
Lee and his ilk sometimes seem to focus solely on the offender’s perceived misfortunes. They are blissfully oblivious to the collateral damage their soft-on-crime proposals inflict on everyone – that is, the vast majority of people the Democratic Senator from Colorado Springs is supposed to serve.
Of course, the justice “reform” agenda of Lee and other ruling Democrats on State Capitol irritates some dreamers and self-proclaimed libertarians. These reformers seem convinced that they can change basic human nature just with a dose of enlightened politics. They have the best intentions but work under one of the worst illusions – that wrongdoers can be righted if they face milder and milder consequences. Or even no consequences at all.
Meanwhile, victims of crime – and the rest of the public who shudder with fear of being victimized – are suspicious of aspiring reformers. It is if they are noticed at all.
All of this was laid out this week in an in-depth report on Lee and his legislation by our news affiliate Colorado Politics. Lee, who chairs the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee, reflects on his view of the world – and his disappointment at not being able to cram more of it through the legislative sausage maker.
The Colorado Politics report also captures the immense relief of law enforcement at the failure of Lee’s most reckless proposal. It is said to have banned arrests for a number of crimes the perpetrators considered to be juvenile and would have allowed those arrested to escape prison without bail for an even greater number of offenses. We joined law enforcement in opposing the bill and hailed its demise – with the help of two Democratic lawmakers in suburban Denver who voted with minority Republicans.
Lee’s ally, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado’s Denise Maes, berated both lawmakers – and unwittingly spoke of the general state of mind of justice reformers: “I think it’s unfortunate that we have had two Democrats who listened to their one voter, their police chief, and not to the larger constituency calling for reform. “
God forbid they should listen to the best crime fighter in a community – about a bill that undermines the fight against crime. OK, so how about at least listening to an even larger constituency – victims of crime?
As we noted many times here during the last legislative session, Colorado is being hit by an almost unprecedented wave of crime. 2020 saw a 3.9% increase in overall crime in the state; murder and manslaughter increased 29%, aggravated assault increased 17% and robberies increased 6.5%. Auto theft increased by 39%.
Lee insists this has nothing to do with the temporary release of detainees due to a pandemic last year to curb the spread of COVID behind bars. But many do not agree. Among them is Colorado Springs City Court President HayDen Kane, who testified in the Legislature last month against Lee’s bill. He said the rate of people skipping court dates jumped amid COVID as suspects realized they wouldn’t be jailed for not appearing. Imagine if Lee’s Bill made this policy permanent.
Dreamers like Lee have conjured up myths to support their account of justice reform. Foremost of these myths is the idea that Colorado and the rest of the United States are “over-incarcerated.” Of course, a justice system can wrongly incarcerate just as it can wrongly convict a suspect. It is a matter of error – often human error, perhaps by a jury – and policymakers like Lee should strive to minimize the occurrence of such aberrations.
But if a criminal suspect is truly guilty – and if, among other considerations, he poses a plausible threat to the public – how can his incarceration contribute to over-incarceration? On the contrary, it is in its place. He must be treated with humanity and his civil rights scrupulously respected. And there must be enough room to house him and his fellow inmates safely and in a healthy manner. However, it has no place on the street.
In the Colorado Politics report, Lee looks longingly at overseas legal systems that he says are fairer. But it doesn’t matter what percentage of the Italian, Japanese or Danish population is serving a prison sentence. Colorado, like the rest of the United States, needs to respond quickly and decisively to its own crime rate, not that of Belgium or Bolivia. There are many diverse factors that distinguish our society from others, and we cannot afford to legislate at will, applying our criminal code to criminals from another culture.
What we know about our own society is that if offenders are let go, they will continue to break the laws. And others will suffer.
Indeed, crime always creates consequences for its victims; the least we can do is make sure that criminals suffer consequences as well.