Though all indications are that the tough-on-crime approach worked extremely well—if the data is examined from reason rather than ideology and with the knowledge that criminals with extensive rap sheets are dangerous because they are committed to being criminals not necessarily because of the particular crime they might be arrested for at a particular time, the tendency to go soft still generates support, as this story from The Crime Report indicates.

“An excerpt.

“The Georgia legislature, once noted for its tough-on-crime approach, voted last year to stop imprisoning certain non-violent offenders—particularly those involved in drugs—and divert them instead into cheaper, community-based rehabilitation programs.

“In Miami, prosecutors and police are a few years into a campaign aimed at reducing court backlogs by, for example, serving civil citations to plumbers whose trucks lacked a legally required sign bearing the name of their business—instead of charging them with criminal misdemeanors, the previous penalty.

“In New York State, the Close to Home project, launched in 2011, will place young  offenders under supervision in their home communities with access to mental health and other counseling, instead of shipping them off to juvenile facilities far from their families. 

“These examples illustrate a growing national trend towards decriminalization of offenses that once were routinely punished by imprisonment.  The trend reflects efforts to cut criminal justice costs and, at the same time, a re-evaluation of what constitutes appropriate punishment.

“Underlying this approach is the idea that prison cells should be reserved for dangerous criminals.

“The primary purpose of imprisonment should be safety, and separating us from people who would do us physical harm,” criminal defense lawyer Jim Felman of Tampa, FL, a member of the American Bar Association (ABA), said in an interview with The Crime Report.

Reclassifying Crimes

“The ABA is among the groups backing efforts to reclassify certain kinds of crime and to lessen some criminal sentences.

“In particular, the bar association has spotlighted how such changes might better balance the scales of justice for the poor who cannot afford adequate legal counsel, and who disproportionately fill the nation’s prisons.

“According to Pew Center Public Safety Performance Project director Adam Gelb, roughly half the states have redefined their sentencing standards over the last five years.

“Money has largely driven those initiatives. Free-falling government revenues have made it harder to justify the higher costs of incarcerating a wide array of non-violent people as opposed to dealing with them in other ways.

“Policymakers are recognizing that it’s not their job just to look tough on crime,” Gelb said. “It’s their job to produce a better public safety return, better results for taxpayers.”

“Gelb added that the re-thinking has spurred many legislators “to ask questions and make policy change that concentrates on using prison space for serious, chronic and violent offenders, and to shift lower-level offenders back into the community.”