In the latest five-minute video for PragerU, Manhattan Institute fellow Rafael Mangual talks about “progressive prosecutors” and their failure to deter crime in America’s largest cities.
Mangual explains that “the role of the prosecutor is to pursue justice” — namely, by enforcing the laws passed by the representatives of the people. Enforcing the law discourages future crimes, while also providing some degree of solace to its victims.
“This is the basis of civil society,” says Mangual. “But over the last several years, a growing number of American cities have elected prosecutors who are deemphasizing enforcement.”
In the interest of “reform,” many prosecutors selectively uphold the law. “Their motive, seemingly well-intentioned, is that criminals do better when they’re not incarcerated — that many people who are in jail shouldn’t be there because they don’t present a danger to society.”
In Boston, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachel Rollins stopped prosecuting crimes like trespassing, stealing less than $250, destruction of property, and drug possession with the intent to distribute. Over in Los Angeles, George Gascón actively bars prosecutors pursuing sentencing enhancements for gang-related offenses and “third strike” cases.
The same pattern plays out in St. Louis, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Portland, San Antonio, and other major cities, says Mangual.
“In fact,” explains Mangual, “more than 40 million Americans now live in cities with so-called ‘progressive’ prosecutors. That’s a lot of ‘reform’ happening outside the institutions designed to make the law: state, county, and city legislatures.”
For several reasons, this is cause for major concern.
First of all, “a single official shouldn’t be able to sidestep the political process and decide what laws to enforce or not.” But also, “these changes aren’t making our cities safer.”
George Gascón’s ban on third-strike sentencing may have led to serious missed benefits for deterring crime. In 2007, economists studied the effects of California’s three-strikes law and revealed a 17% to 20% reduction in the felony arrest rate among those who already had two strikes.
Meanwhile, for curtailing pretrial detention, the data from New York and Chicago indicate that increasing the number of defendants out on the street pre-trial will lead to more crimes from that population.
“‘Reform’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better,’” says Mangual. “It can often mean worse. In the case of progressive prosecutors, perhaps much worse.”