There is a figurative pendulum in the American criminal law system, and it swings back and forth in a recurrent and sometimes predictable way.
Some readers of our Shazam Kianpour & Associates blog posts might remember well the 1960s, a time marked by elevated turbulence across the country. Societal pressures across many fronts led to strident calls for reform in the criminal law sphere from critics demanding beefed-up investigative efforts and tougher sentencing outcomes.
Those unquestionably materialized via the so-called War on Crime and War on Drugs. Those campaigns ended up being decades-long platforms marked by aggressive police tactics and prosecutorial zeal. Resulting sentences for defendants fashioned by things like “three strikes” policies, mandatory minimum prison terms and reduced judicial discretion have been notably harsh – and clearly punitive – in legions of cases.
The adverse effects of such policies – which have centrally included a mushrooming prison population, ultra-long terms of incarceration, a high recidivism rate and outsized outlays for taxpayers – have been much noted in recent years.
And they have been acted upon in a bipartisan way by national and state lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle. A number of reform measures have sought to inject an enhanced level of fairness and rationality back into the criminal law system.
But the above-cited pendulum swings, with a rekindled spark now igniting calls from some sectors for back-to-toughness rules and policies. That is unsurprising, given 2020’s status as an election year and the spiked volatility on display in police/citizen interactions across the country over the past several months.
Law-and-order issues have become a top-tier theme in the presidential campaign, as noted in an in-depth national article on a massive and deeply resourced DEA violent crime initiative.
That piece stresses the current administration’s touting of that probe and additional federal involvement in other aggressive enforcement efforts recently launched. We will take a look at a couple of those initiatives in our next blog post.