Watch TV in any state with a competitive Senate or gubernatorial race, and you’ll see that the criminal-justice reform agenda is under attack.
Republicans pin higher crime rates on Democrats who have expressed sympathy for the movement to confront racial inequities in the criminal-justice system.
In New York, a conservative super PAC opposing Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul is slamming her for defending “the state’s disastrous cashless bail experiment” and refusing to “remove liberal prosecutors, like [Manhattan’s] Alvin Bragg, who too often downgrade charges for dangerous criminals.”
In Pennsylvania, the National Republican Senatorial Committee links John Fetterman to “sanctuary cities, weak prosecutors, crime skyrocketing—failed liberal policies, making us less safe.” In Wisconsin, Republican ads ominously ask, “What happens when criminals are released because bail is set dangerously low?” and accuse Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes wanting to completely eliminate cash bail.
The attacks assume that the changes in criminal-justice policies that some states and many cities have pursued over the past few years are undermining public safety and fueling higher crime rates, writes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.
A new study by the Center for American Progress refutes that allegation. Conducted by seven academic researchers, the study compares cities that have elected so-called progressive prosecutors with places whose district attorneys pursue more traditional approaches.
Countering conventional wisdom, the study found that homicides over recent years increased less rapidly in cities with progressive prosecutors than in those with more traditional district attorneys.
It also found no meaningful differences between cities with progressive or traditional DAs in the trends for larceny and robbery. “I think it’s really important to emphasize the extent to which we looked for a relationship and found none” between a prosecutors’ commitment to reform and crime rates, said Todd Foglesong of the University of Toronto and a co-author.
The data, from CAP, a liberal think tank and advocacy organization, reinforce the message from a study released earlier by Third Way, a centrist Democratic group. That report found that per capita murder rates in 2020 were 40 percent higher in states that voted for Donald Trump than in those that voted for President Biden. The study found that eight of the 10 states with the highest per capita murder rates in 2020 have voted Republican in every presidential election in this century.
Progressive prosecutors have made major electoral gains since the mid-2010s, winning elections in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, among other big cities. Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s reform-minded DA, says that about 20 percent of the nation’s population now lives in jurisdictions with a progressive prosecutor, compared with about 10 percent a little more than two years ago and almost none 10 years ago.