One of my law school classmates had a sign on his locker picturing a sinking ship. A caption read: “Despair: It may be that the purpose of your life is to stand as a warning to others.”
This message, seemingly of depressed hopelessness, captures something good that our criminal justice system has lost.
Sometime around 2010—after a two-decade-long dividend of lawfulness and pro-sociality, with urban areas growing exponentially amid the blessings of low crime—the public reverted to more soft on crime policies. This outcome was driven by two populations: those who had forgotten past crime waves, and those who never lived through times of resurgent anti-social behavior and came to believe such times never existed.
It is easy to understand the mindset that replaces retributive justice with efforts to counsel, treat, divert, supervise, and pander to every individual criminal as a damaged person. It feels merciful. It sounds, when uttered aloud, kind and understanding. During the Obama years, the nation’s leaders emphasized the importance of “empathy” within the judiciary and the legal system even as they escorted American society out of the post-crack epidemic and post-1990s, truth-in-sentencing crime minimum.
Judging empathy and measuring decency need not be limited to seeing the criminal justice system through the lens of the accused criminal and his family. A higher form of empathy requires assessing justice through the eyes of direct and circumstantial victims of antisocial persons.
We exist now in an epidemic of born-addicted infants. The progenitors of this mentally stunted generation—born that way through no fault of their own—breed without hesitation and without remorse.
One of the most prolific reproducers in my small town, Todd Gintz, has sired eight addicted children with his wife, Alyssa. Both Gintzes make no effort to stop using drugs. In just the last year, Gintz informed the magistrate charged with seizing his most recent offspring that he was “going to keep having babies, and you’re going to keep taking them.”
Narcotics dealer Deangelo Tellis, recently imprisoned by my county for 15 years, happily sold fentanyl directly to Alyssa while she was eight months pregnant. You and I will pay for each of the Gintz children, likely for their entire lives, due to the disabilities that come with being born addicted to fentanyl, the modern version of heroin.
This scourge is no different and no less costly than the epidemic of crack babies the nation faced in the late ’80s and early ’90s. What’s different now is the willingness of society to take affirmative steps to address the problem as the crisis that it is.
Drugs are but a taste of the consequences of society’s embrace of “treating” the criminal. In Columbus, Ohio, roving hordes of juveniles steal and crash cars on a nightly basis. Sometimes the same criminal does a repeat theft in the same night, even after being caught by the police. When these marauders are apprehended, they are taken to the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center. There, penny-pinching bureaucrats empowered by an enfeebled and criminal-subservient judiciary order that no juveniles are to be held for “nonviolent” offenses, or misdemeanors. So they are released.
The intellectually curious might ponder what effect such policies have on the interest and enthusiasm of law enforcement officers to pursue and capture these kinds of criminals. A brief search of the record shows that the elected prosecutors in both Columbus and Franklin County (like many other jurisdictions now saddled with leftist prosecutors) are enthusiastic about pursuing only one type of criminal case—those against police officers.
Anecdotally, Columbus officers have informed me that they make sure to turn on their lights and sirens blocks away from crime scenes and drive slowlyto ensure no one is left to catch when they arrive. Why take the risk of a career-ending or life-ending encounter? Of course, it’s the only rational response, as even if they did catch some criminals, most of them would be released immediately. Why risk your life for that?
See the Real Victims
What of the “circumstantial” victims of rampant anti-social behavior? The victims of the lawless nightmare fostered by progressive approaches to crime are not hard to find. They simply receive no attention in public policy, legislative, media, or academic criminal justice circles.
A poor man whose Kia is stolen for a joy ride and bumper-cars in Columbus is not faceless, nor is his family. They’re real. But the courts ignore their genuine victimhood because auto theft is a “nonviolent” crime.
The man who cannot let his children play outside because of the needles in the lawns and parks and the hoodlums running his neighborhood is a real person, too. His children are real people. They experience real crimes. But calling the law for help makes them the bad guys in our insane times, where asking to live in peace is considered “criminalizing” another person’s existence or color.
Liberals and libertarians who live in suburbs protected by highly paid police enjoy the luxury of police officers who are happy to offer friendly rides out of the jurisdiction to those who don’t belong. These elites never see the outcomes or pay the price for their policy preferences—the policies they vote for that make for pleasing “enlightened” conversations at dinner parties. The victims of their policies are trapped in decaying neighborhoods where they cannot even call the police or hope to recover their stolen property. And if they do call the police, they are harassed, threatened, and assaulted by streetwise ruffians who’ve been released on zero-dollar bonds.
In the early 2000s, David DeVillers, a federal prosecutor who eventually would promote to U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, led a lengthy prosecution against the notorious “Short North Posse,” a gang that ran the streets north of downtown Columbus. His team jailed these monsters for decades. While they were gone, their formerly crime-ridden neighborhood blossomed into a hub of nightlife and shopping.
Today, those violent criminals are finishing their sentences. They have learned nothing. They have not been reformed or rehabilitated. Like salmon returning to their primordial stream, they have poured back into their old neighborhood entirely unfazed by the new economic development. Only now, under the pro-criminal Franklin County judiciary and consequently atrophied law enforcement, there are shootings nightly in what was briefly the best place for the hip and affluent to hang out in Columbus.
In 2020, thousands of armed, violent criminals took over the streets of Columbus, burning buildings and tearing elderly persons from their vehicles. The only aggressive, enthusiastic prosecutions sought in the aftermath were against police officers.
Return to What Works
The solution to these problems is not to be found in the current crop of legislators in the statehouse or in Congress. It is certainly not present in the failed policies of Soros-funded prosecutors. The solution exists in the statute books from the early to mid-’90s. The answer is to restore the eroded reforms adopted then—reforms that current legislators have concluded interfere with their ability to give cash away to interests that kick money back to them.
In Ohio, ever since wooden-armed and concrete-brained Republican John Kasich championed House Bill 86 in 2011, the pervasive, yearly trend has been to adopt ever more generous, ever more treatment-focused, ever more punishment-averse legislation addressing the crime epidemic. Republican legislators were sold these changes based on the facially absurd and logically incoherent claim that the reforms would “save money and reduce crime.” Ohio has shuttered nearly all juvenile prisons and, even as the state’s population has grown, shut down prisons and sold off land adjacent to existing prisons to deter prisons from expanding. The effort continues to this day.
These changes have cost the state and victims tens of millions of dollars and increased crime.
Here are some true statements.
Criminals in prison do not commit crimes against citizens in their neighborhoods.
Criminals in prison do not threaten witnesses or foment a “snitches get stitches” anti-social culture.
Criminals in prison do not sire generations of addicted children.
Criminals in prison do not kill other people by selling them drugs.
Criminals in prison do not steal the cars and the limited rewards of labor and production from poor people.
Criminals in prison do not rape children.
Criminals in prison do not ruin neighborhoods and playgrounds.
Criminals in prison do not embezzle, rob, burglarize, break and enter, steal identities, forge, damage, burn, loot, assault, or otherwise diminish the lives of decent, law-abiding people.
Here is another true statement: Anti-social people are anti-social because they are selfish, greedy, and—most importantly—indifferent to social norms.
Most socialized people possess little insight into what makes the anti-social individual tick. Academics are no better. They attempt to write papers about the motivations of criminals. In Ohio, the University of Cincinnati has an entire taxpayer-funded institute created to fabricate an enormous fig leaf that legislators use to cover the shame of their pro-crime, “money-saving” legislation.
The academics travel to prisons and interview felons whom they presume to provide honest answers to questionnaires. They study probationers. They draw insane and absurd conclusions.
For instance, researchers discovered that when criminals are on probation, they are more likely to be caught and prosecuted for committing additional crimes. The begowned Ph.D. candidates surmised that probation must harm criminals’ self-esteem and cause them to relapse into stealing anything not locked down. The obvious truth is that people who are being watched are more likely to get caught. Researchers never considered that possibility. Madness.
Decent People Want Order
The too-clever-by-half nonsense from academics aside, there is one thing that exists consistently in the minds of those who commit crime: an inherent—even if not fully intellectualized—internal decision-making process assessing risk and reward.
This risk-reward calculation is the one and single pressure point against which decent society has leverage against lawlessness. The punishment for crime must be so sure and severe that the immediate benefit of the crime is not worth the potential future punishment. This rubric requires absolute consistency and extreme severity because, outside of sophisticated narcotics traffickers, most anti-social persons’ minds are overwhelmingly weighted toward immediate gratification and higher risk tolerance.
In the early ’90s, criminal laws (specifically “truth in sentencing” laws) were changed to remove from society, at least semi-permanently, people who provided no useful contribution and represented a threat to common decency. These criminals were not missed in decent society for even a day.
In the years since, the pro-criminal lobby has falsely labeled these initiatives “mass incarceration” and declared them evils to be eradicated. In fact, those policies worked. They remain a humane solution for those who deserve humanity—victims of crime today and our country’s next generation tomorrow.
Those who feast on the sores of society have no need to remain free to continue their gluttony. They can ply their trade in prison.
Liberals and even conservatives who should know better embrace the fetish that minorities will flock to the party that most embraces transforming their neighborhoods into warzones. We must reject such condescending nonsense. The issue is not racial in nature. In fact, minorities are vastly overrepresented as victims of crime. The criminal lobby and its academic enablers concern themselves solely and singly with those criminals who are in prison where they belong, and ignore the victims of crime, who are innocent, more numerous, and likely to be minorities themselves.
Rather than creating hundreds of ways for criminals to sneak out the back door of prisons, and dozens of ways for them to avoid prison in the first place, and rather than handicapping those few judges left who will send criminals where they belong, the state and federal legislatures need to return to the understanding that the sentence handed down in court is the sentence a criminal will serve, and ensure that a criminal’s sentence is lengthy, incapacitating, and a deterrence to more crime.
Only then may we say to the criminal, The purpose of your life is to stand as a warning to others.