April 2006 -- I spent considerable time from the late 1980s to the mid-’90s writing about the disastrous consequences of liberal leniency in the U.S. criminal justice system. My efforts included a number of investigative reports for Reader’s Digest and elsewhere, and a couple of books.

In these, I placed responsibility for the nation’s crime epidemic on what I dubbed “The Excuse-Making Industry”: that well-heeled, well-organized group of psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, and other “social scientists” who concoct endless rationalizations for criminal conduct. Their deterministic theories of human behavior— which blame crimes on everything but the criminals—were imported wholesale into our courts and prisons. Eschewing justice for mercy, and punishment for rehabilitation, the American legal system eagerly adopted all the Excuse Makers’ policy recommendations: early parole, probation, and other “alternatives to incarceration”; rampant plea bargaining; rules that exclude even non-coerced confessions and probative evidence; “correctional facilities” that resemble college campuses crammed with amenities.
As any rational individual—i.e., anyone except a contemporary intellectual—could have anticipated, these anti-punitive policies generated a tremendous surge in criminality during the 1960s and ’70s. The blood-red trend line of soaring crime rates reversed direction only after an outraged public demanded tougher criminal sanctions during the subsequent two decades: “truth-in-sentencing” laws, mandatory-minimum sentencing statutes, and new prisons to house the lawless hordes that had been allowed to run riot on our streets.
The result of this increased punitivity? Crime rates plunged dramatically. Duh.
But working behind the scenes—on campuses, in advocacy groups, in legislatures, and deeply entrenched within the legal system itself—Excuse-Making ideologues have been undermining these reforms all along. And once again, the result was easily predictable: a sudden jump in violent crime rates. FBI data for 2005 show a 2.5 percent rise in reported violent crimes over 2004, with murders and robberies up nearly five percent.
If you wish to preview the blood-soaked future that the Excuse Makers would bequeath to us, consider Great Britain, where their perverse theories of moral relativism and criminal non-responsibility have institutionalized a complete ethical inversion. In the June 17 Wall Street Journal, historian Joyce Lee Malcolm painted a devastating portrait of a “criminal justice system” gone completely bonkers.
The result of this increased punitivity? Crime rates plunged dramatically. Duh.
Malcolm reported that “for ideological and economic reasons [British authorities] have adopted a lenient approach toward offenders. Because prisons are expensive and don’t reform their residents, fewer offenders are incarcerated. Those who are get sharply reduced sentences, and serve just half of these…The public learned in April that among convicts released early to ease overcrowding were violent or sex offenders serving mandatory life sentences who were freed after as little as 15 months.”
Now the world’s most violent developed country, Britain instructs its police to free, with a mere warning, those who confess to some 60 crimes—from burglary and assault to arson and sex with an underage girl. “That is, no jail time, no fine, no community service, no court appearance,” Malcolm reports. “It’s cheap, quick, saves time and money, and best of all the offenders won’t tax an already overcrowded jail system.”
In a June 23 piece for the online news site Tech Central Station, Peter Glover fills in this ugly portrait, noting that “what has really deepened the concern of the British people with the British justice system is the growing awareness of just what ‘do-gooder’ liberal polices mean in practice. They include:
  • automatic one-third discount of sentence for pleading guilty.
  • automatic eligibility for parole after half the sentence is served.
  • an early release scheme to aid the issue of over-crowded prisons.
  • the supplanting of a ‘punishment that fits the crime’ ethos with an emphasis on rehabilitation…”
But all this is just one half of the moral inversion. “Not everyone will be treated so leniently,” writes Malcolm. “A new surveillance system promises to hunt down anyone exceeding the speed limit. Using excessive force against a burglar or mugger will earn you a conviction for assault or, if you seriously harm him, a long sentence. Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer jailed for killing one burglar and wounding another during the seventh break-in at his rural home, was denied parole because he posed a threat to burglars. The career burglar whom Mr. Martin wounded got out early.”
These policies, which stand justice on its head, precisely mirror those that fueled the U.S. crime explosion of the ’60s and ’70s. Still, observe that in both nations, the mounds of corpses they have left in their wake have not deterred the professional Excuse Makers, who reserve their crocodile tears only for victimizers, not their victims.
Glover reports that a popular rebellion appears to brewing in Britain against such sympathy-for-the-devil leniency—just as occurred in America during the 1970s. But meanwhile, America is flirting again with the same unjust coddling that set off the crime tsunami of previous decades, and which is now swamping Great Britain.
The ever-shifting fads in our legal system clearly reflect the contradictory philosophical premises battling for cultural supremacy. What explains harmful human conduct: free will or determinism? And how should we therefore address harmful conduct: with justice or mercy? In terms of each premise’s actual consequences over the past fifty years, the answers couldn’t be clearer. But even demonstrably bad and harmful philosophical premises are ingrained in our culture, and not so easily relinquished.
How many times, I wonder, must a society experience the carnage wrought by ideologically driven programs before examining and rejecting—for good—their underlying premises, and their proponents?
Or, are most people so incapable of thinking in principles that each new generation must be sentenced to relearn the obvious, through its own direct experience with bleeding and broken bodies?


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