Criminal Justice Reform: It Depends on Where You Look

At Ten Miles Square today, Keith Humphreys takes exception with a Max Ehrenfreud piece at WaPo that suggests (and this is something I fear as well) that the backlash rhetoric from the presidential campaign trail could be unraveling prospects for a bipartisan criminal justice reform push in Congress. As it happens, Keith was just at a multistate conference on sobriety initiatives in Montana, and he saw no flagging of interest in criminal justice reform among the state officials he met. So he’s a bit annoyed at the assumption that Beltway perceptions of the impact people like Donald Trump are having on the issue are at all accurate.

In Max’s defense, he duly noted that support for criminal justice reform remains robust in various states, and that nine of ten prisoners are in state and local, not federal, incarceration systems. But it’s very good to learn from Keith first-hand that the backlash doesn’t seem to be affecting the politics of reform in the places it matters most.

Still, federal laws do have an impact, and moreover, I don’t think the backlash is just about Donald Trump by any stretch of the imagination, though he’s the only pol determined to claim we’re in a “crime wave” caused by immigrants. The same perceptions–and in some places, numbers, though they are often less than entirely credible–that Trump (and Cruz, and Walker, and even Bush) is feeding on are in the air, and could become as tempting to state-level Republicans as they are clearly are to those on the presidential campaign trail. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.