While the view of many conservatives and Republicans is that Democrats and liberals are soft on crime, the Democratic pushback is frequently that an adequate response to crime must be manifold. Rather than being soft on crime, Democratic views on crime instead favor an approach that includes more than just a rigidly punitive mindset. While those who violate the law should absolutely be held accountable, the line of thinking embraced by many liberals is one that explores questions regarding the laws we create, the methodology of enforcement, the best practices we may employ for those who are imprisoned, and more. Some of these questions include:
- Are the laws we create ones that uphold our senses of justice, morality, logic, and compassion?
- Are our laws enforced fairly and efficiently, without regard to race, sex, income, etc.?
- Are we making efforts to ensure those who are imprisoned are more than just punished, but also hopefully reformed?
These questions carry no simple answers to the appropriately inquisitive mind, and in considering some possible answers we can better grasp the Democratic views on crime.
So–let’s begin by tackling the first question. The question of whether or not our existing laws reflect our values as a nation (those of commitments to justice, morality, logic, and compassion) – can be used to explore a few different areas of Democratic policy. Perhaps the most clear and immediate example in the modern day, though, revolves around the issue of medical marijuana. To that point, 83% of Americans surveyed supported medicinal marijuana in a recent Yahoo/Marist poll. The shift in public opinion towards support doesn’t stop there, as another poll conducted by CBS News shows that 61% of American’s now favor the complete legalization of marijuana. While Democrats are certainly not alone in their efforts to support marijuana legalization (medicinal or otherwise), the cause does seem more readily championed by liberals. A comparative glance at the two most recent US Attorneys General seems to validate this view, as Obama’s administration seemed more favorable to leaving the determinations in state hands whereas Jeff Sessions, President Trump’s Attorney General, wants to head in a different direction – harder enforcement. Simply visiting the DNC’s present Party Platform online readily confirms their views on this front: “Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of ‘Schedule 1’ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”
What of the next question, though–that of considering whether our existing laws are enforced fairly and without regard to race, sex, and other factors that shouldn’t carry weight for law enforcement. Perhaps the best example of concerns on this front in the modern day would come from the movement Black Lives Matter. While the common conservative response to Black Lives Matter is one of deference to law enforcement officers, the Party Platform of the DNC acknowledges the concerns African Americans carry. “We have been inspired by the movements for criminal justice that directly address the discriminatory treatment of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians to rebuild trust in the criminal justice system.” While the DNC’s acknowledgement of the need to remove bias from the criminal justice system does carry weight, there are also views from those of an even more liberal persuasion that desire to push still further.
Bernie Sanders, who ran as a Democrat in the 2016 Presidential election but serves in the Senate as an Independent, would be one voice championing this cause, stating “If current trends continue, one in four black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during their lifetime. Blacks are imprisoned at six times the rate of whites and a report by the Department of Justice found that blacks were three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop, compared to white motorists. Together, African-Americans and Latinos comprised 57 percent of all prisoners in 2014, even though African-Americans and Latinos make up approximately one quarter of the US population. These outcomes are not reflective of increased crime by communities of color, but rather a disparity in enforcement and reporting mechanisms.”
The Prison System
And, of course, we have the remaining question of how to best improve the existing prison system so that it acts to penalize criminals while also working to reform them. Many conservatives prefer the view that this is part of what makes liberals, and thus Democrats, soft on crime. However, this view is born of a desire for justice to be measured in the suffering of the guilty, and while some degree of this logic is understandable – it falls apart with the realization that short of a life sentence (or the death penalty) most prisoners will face their release one day. It follows logically, then, that efforts to reduce rates of recidivism are more than simply acts of compassion: they are acts in the greater societal interest. Drawing upon the DNC’s Party Platform yet again, we can see commitments to this exact concern outlined: “We will remove barriers to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter society by ‘banning the box,’ expanding reentry programs, and restoring voting rights.” Similar commitments in the DNC Party Platform can be pointed to do highlight the desire for increasing access to “diversionary programs that seek to give nonviolent offenders opportunities for rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration.”
So–what takeaways can we logically justify regarding common Democratic views with regards to crime? Well, there’s a growing desire to break away from parts of the Drug War – although a minority of liberals may favor an altogether parting of ways from the Drug War, instead. This is based in part in a desire to allow for the use of substances, like marijuana, with growing medicinal value, but can also be credited to the desire to reduce America’s tragically large prison population. There are also concerns about the methodology and training of law enforcement officers, and the disproportionate impact of certain laws and policies presently in place on minority communities. And, of course, there’s the stalwart desire to improve our efforts to allow those who have served their time to reintegrate seamlessly into society. While many conservatives will decry such views as taking a weak position on crime, the rationales explained in this piece are meant to point to the factors that have led many to believe in such causes. And while the views of each individual Democrat and Democratic politician may widely vary, there would seem to be an overarching theme outlined in these views that most adhere to.
- Americans Overwhelmingly Favor Medical Marijuana, Split On Recreational Weed: Poll – The Washington Times
- Marijuana Legalization Support At All-Time High – CBS News
- Our Platform – Democrats.org
- Racial Justice – Bernie Sanders
- Donald Trump on Marijuana
- Democratic Views on Marijuana
- Democratic Views on Drugs
- Democratic Views on Prison Reform
- Republican Views On Crime
- Republican Views on Marijuana
- Republican Views on Drugs
- Libertarian Views On Health Care
- Republican Views on the Prison System
- Democratic Views on the Death Penalty