Justice by Press Release

I recently received a call from a very puzzled U.S. senator. He went home for the congressional recess, expecting to face questions from his constituents about all the hot issues: health care, NAFTA, TV violence. But to his surprise, the only topic people talked about was crime. Crime has become the number one concern in America today, and Congress is scrambling to patch together a budget-busting omnibus crime bill. But already the patchwork is starting to unravel. Critics call the bill a Christmas tree: hung with shiny baubles that serve merely political purposes. For example, since arson is a problem in California, the Senate crime bill turns arson into a federal offense. This is the administration of justice by press release-measures tacked on just to make a senator look good to the folks back home. What’s worse, the bill turns several state offenses into federal offenses, vastly increasing the power of the federal government. For example, the bill makes every crime committed with a handgun a federal offense. That means potentially hundreds of thousands of crimes will be taken out of state courts and turned over to the federal courts-a huge expansion of federal jurisdiction. The bill’s showcase is the creation of several regional prisons for violent criminals. That may sound good-until you realize that states will be allowed to use the regional prisons only if they adopt federal sentencing guidelines. In other words, states will not be allowed to make their own judgments about what constitutes just punishment. Instead, they will have to mechanically apply a single, one-size-fits-all sentence, handed down from Capitol Hill. In effect, Congress will be writing our state criminal laws. This is nothing but a power grab by the federal government. Do we really want our local jails and prisons run by bureaucrats in Washington? Besides, simply warehousing criminals in regional prisons won’t solve the problem of crime. Prison doesn't change anyone. Two thirds of inmates who are released from prison are rearrested in three years. So this isn’t a crime bill; it’s a public-works bill. It will put people to work building concrete cages, but it will do nothing to solve the crime problem. The real danger is that the bill will delude us into thinking we have done something to solve crime and will tempt us to relax our efforts. Then, as chaos continues to destroy our cities, people will finally turn to the strong arm of the government. In an ominous foreshadowing of what could happen, a Miami Herald poll found that the citizens of southern Florida support police roadblocks to track down drugs, even though the roadblocks have been ruled unconstitutional-a violation of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure. The dark truth is that people will always prefer order to chaos-even if order is imposed at the expense of our liberties. Over the next few days on this program I’ll be talking about a real answer to the problem of crime. I hope you'll call us here at BreakPoint for a fact sheet you can use to contact your representatives in Congress. Christmas is over, and the last thing we need is a crime bill decked out with Christmas baubles.


Chuck Colson


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