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Rising Crime: The Consequence of No Consequences

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Linda-Marie Sundstrom & Mark Kling
October 9, 2021

According to the FBI, violent crime increased by 30% in 2020, and continues to escalate in 2021. Violent crime in 2021 appears to be on track to be the worst in American history. However, reports indicate that non-violent crimes may be decreasing. Are the non-violent crimes truly decreasing, or are legislative changes impacting the prosecution of such crimes masking another reality?

Recent legislation across the country is reducing the consequences for a variety of non-violent crimes, eliminating the “tough-on-crime” approach and replacing it with a less punitive approach. But what are the consequences to public safety when those accused of crimes face fewer or no consequences?

No Cash Bail Reforms

New York is an example of one of many cities that have passed No Cash Bail Reform. This reform allows people who are arrested for non-violent crimes to be released from jail immediately without the need to post bail. The intent of the law was to reduce undue financial burdens on those accused of a crime, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. However, releasing the accused, with no financial liability, can also result in no consequences for attempting additional crimes. For example, in the first eight months of 2021, an accused criminal, Isaac Rodriguez, had been arrested and released 57 times in New York. That adds up to numerous additional people being victimized due the repeated release of one man in the city.

Diversion Rather than Prosecution

Some believe that tough-on-crime prosecutions lead to solidifying a life of crime for those convicted. They advocate for traditional Diversion programs that are intended to move away from the tough-on-crime approach—moving to a more rehabilitative model. Traditional Diversion programs allow a person to plead guilty to a crime, but to “serve time” through alternate means, such as attending anger management or substance abuse classes. Traditionally, the Diversion occurs after the conviction. The post-conviction Diversionis intended to prevent recidivism by providing help to the convicted person.

California enacted new legislation (AB-3234) in January 2021, that not only provides for pre-conviction Diversion, but also that once the Diversion is the completed, the misdemeanor offense is eliminated from the person’s record—as if the crime never occurred. Most misdemeanor crimes are eligible for this new type of pre-conviction Diversion including:

  • Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.
  • Driving under the influence (DUI).
  • Elder/child abuse.
  • Assault.
  • Carrying a concealed firearm.
  • Possession of a firearm in a school zone.
  • Criminal threats.
  • Dissuading a witness.
  • Petty theft.
  • All other “standard” misdemeanors.

Pre-conviction Diversion can consist of simple probation or additional conditions added at the judge’s discretion. One intention of the law is to remove crimes from a person’s record which may otherwise hinder their search for future employment. However, the consequence of no consequences means that people can commit multiple offenses, which are never recorded as crimes, and continue to request pre-conviction Diversion to have them removed from their record. The diverted crimes can never be raised in court to show criminal trends, because the record is wiped clean each time.

Organizations, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), oppose these types of laws because they remove the consequences for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Rather than being convicted of a DUI, paying fines, possible jail time, and a subsequent rise in auto insurance rates (all significant deterrents), the pre-trial judge can offer pre-conviction Diversion and once completed, the DUI is never posted as a crime. If the person is arrested for DUI in the future, not only will it be viewed as a first-time offense, but also the offender can request pre-conviction Diversion once again. If the justice system is intended to have consequences for criminal behavior, that serve as a deterrent for people who commit crimes, the “no consequences” option may be removing that deterrent and resulting in increasing (unreported) crime.

Intentions & Outcomes

As Americans move through discussions about criminal justice reform options, we can ask ourselves, what are the intentions of options, such as No Cash Bail. Is it to reduce the financial burden on those accused? If so, the law may achieve that outcome. However, if the law is intending to reduce crime, it may fall short of that outcome. Our conversations surrounding criminal justice need to begin with intentions and outcomes. Otherwise, we may continue to talk “past” each other. We need to determine priorities in communities. If crime rises, but convictions and incarceration rates decrease, that may be a “win” for the recidivism priority, but victims of crime may be left without justice. One law may not be able to solve all desired priorities, but at least our conversations can productively discuss the tradeoffs.

The Consequence of No Consequences

In 2021, nearly 80% of Americans believe violent crime is a major problem and is continuing to get worse. Laws that promote reduced consequences for criminal behavior may serve to lessen the burden on offenders, but the consequence of no consequences may result in increasing crimes and increasing victimhood. Open discourse that firmly rests in outcomes may provide a path forward to future reforms that best serve the communities they impact.


Authors:

Dr. Linda-Marie Sundstrom is a former Fulbright Scholar who taught Public Administration in Ukraine at a university under the Office of the Ukrainian President. She worked for two decades in local government and has taught in Master of Public Administration Programs for nearly two decades. She is currently the MPA Program Director for California Baptist University in Southern California. Email: [email protected]

Dr. Mark Kling has been in law enforcement for 34 years, 13 as police chief. He has taught both Public Administration and Criminal Justice courses for the past 20 years. He is currently the Criminal Justice Program Director for California Baptist University and came out of retirement to transition the Rialto Police Department to new innovative executive leadership. Email: [email protected] / [email protected]

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