Last week's elections do not appear to signal a significant shift in U.S. criminal justice policies, a convention of criminologists was told Thursday.
That outcome wasn't apparent months ago. Public opinion polls showed crime as a big issue in this fall's vote, and many Republicans adopted tough-on-crime rhetoric in their campaigns for office at many levels.
Former American Civil Liberties Union staffer Udi Ofer warned that the trend could lead to a new rise in mass incarceration, after prison populations have been declining.
What actually happened was a "mixed bag," in the words of Adam Gelb of the Council on Criminal Justice, a panelist at the American Society of Criminology's annual conference, being held this week in Atlanta. Few key races were decided on the basis of crime issues. In many places, "crime was on the ballot, but not criminal justice reform," Gelb said.
This included New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's win over anticrime crusader Lee Zeldin and Rep. Karen Bass's victory for Los Angeles mayor over Republican developer Rick Caruso.
There were a few exceptions. Rep. Sean Maloney, the House Democrats' campaign chair, blamed his defeat in past on the Murdoch-owned New York Post and Fox News for making suburban voters fearful of crime with constant coverage of violence.
Gelb described the election results as a kind of Rohrschach test in which people on different sides of criminal justice issues "see what the wand to see."
Liberal prosecutors prevailed in a number of races around the U.S., said District Attorney Dalia Racine, a Democrat in Atlanta's suburban Douglas County.
Racine observed that the ouster of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin by voters earlier this year did not represent a nationwide defeat for so-called "progressive prosecutors" because in that recall campaign, money from outside sources funded a "false narrative" against the incumbent.
Another speaker, Tim Head of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative faith-based group that also works on criminal justice issues, said the message of the election results may have been victories by most incumbents given that crime was not the most important issue for most voters.
The campaign against Boudin was actually one of "voter suppression," Racine contended, with opponents from outside San Francisco effectively telling voters they were "too dumb" to judge their local prosecutor.
Republican control of the U.S. House will result in a key change, with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) expected to assume chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. However, Jordan has indicated he will give priority to various investigations of President Biden and his Justice Department rather than pushing anticrime bills.
Laurie Robinson, who as an assistant U.S. Attorney General under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, had to deal with GOP takeovers of the House in 1994 and 2010, recalled having some success in working with Republicans in the House, something the Biden administration will have to attempt.
Robinson said the major challenge faced by the Biden administration in Congress may be a lengthy series of oversight hearings involving the Justice Department, not only of anticrime policies but also "pattern and practice" investigations of police departments by DOJ's civil rights division.