Rising Crime Rates Are a Policy Choice

Former U.S. Attorney General William Barr has this op-ed in the WSJ with the above headline.

The violent crime surge was preventable. It was caused by progressive politicians reverting to the same reckless revolving-door policies that during the 1960s and ’70s produced the greatest tsunami of violent crime in American history. We reversed that earlier crime wave with the tough anticrime measures adopted during the Reagan-Bush era. We can stop this one as well.

I haven’t seen any reactions to the op-ed yet, but I can predict them.

The people who love to cite “established science” without knowing diddly squat about it will loudly claim that the science shows that tough-on-crime measures, especially tough sentencing, have no effect on crime rates or even that they increase crime. As we have discussed elsewhere, such claims have no foundation in the actual research. See, e.g., this post.

More thoughtful critics may say that Barr overstates the case that tough policies brought down the high crime rates of the 1980s and early 1990s to the lower rates of 2000 and beyond, conceding it was a factor but not the only factor. That criticism would be valid. See this post from 2016. I don’t expect to see a lot of it. Conceding a politically incorrect point even in part is enough to get one ostracized these days.

The reality is that any policy-maker who consults the research, common sense, or both knows that soft-on-crime policies will increase crime. If they still believe such measures are actually good policy (as opposed to simply jumping on the bandwagon in the belief it will get them votes), then they must believe that the benefits of such policies are actually worth the increase in the number of people mugged, raped, or murdered, the number of homes burglarized and cars stolen, and the number of stores ransacked and then shut down. It would be helpful to the debate if they would say so outright.

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