Nichols: When Justice Policies Hurt the Vulnerable

by | Dec 1, 2023 | Opinion

Releasing accused criminals – even “non-violent” criminals – without bail might sound compassionate, but real-world results reveal a harsh truth: lax policies are harming the very people they aim to help. Progressive reforms often unleash two threats simultaneously—more crime and more racial inequity. When accountability disappears, underserved neighborhoods suffer most as opportunistic offenders exploit the lack of consequences.

Despite these predictable effects, activist judges and prosecutors in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco continue doubling down on risky decarceration experiments. They insist cash bail is unfair to low-income defendants, while ignoring how surging lawlessness crushes poor communities. More affluent neighborhoods rarely experience the scale of violence and despair now afflicting vulnerable districts.  

And that’s where “reform” adds insult to injury. Reclassifying felony crimes as misdemeanors, ignoring bench warrants, prohibiting pretrial detention even for serious charges—all these measures coddle criminals while conveying indifference about their prey. 

Reckless policies have effectively tied the hands of police and prosecutors, leaving them unable to intervene against known violent offenders. And when laws treat career criminals and first-time offenders equally, it removes incentives for reform. Even offenders realize there are no real consequences for illegal behavior under lax regimes.

How can progressive leaders claim the mantle of civil rights advocacy while showing such callousness for victims? Equal protection under law cannot selectively emphasize one group’s rights over another’s. Americans have long understood this principle, which explains the public’s commonsense objections to policies more rooted in abstract theory than concrete outcomes.

Critically, these risky experiments have begun disproportionately harming minority communities—the very groups they purported to help. Because while elites may enjoy protected enclaves, average citizens of all backgrounds just want to walk safely down the street at night. Race, income and ZIP code should NOT determine one’s security.  

The push behind these failed bail reforms traces back to activist groups funded by progressive billionaires like George Soros. While sold as “well-intentioned” on the surface, the reality betrayed a movement placing ideology over evidence.

Using philanthropic largesse and savvy public relations, organizers exploited real problems in the pretrial system to demand radical change rather than incremental improvements. Despite experts warning against untested models, detached lawyers and campaigners demonized any skepticism as archaic or racist.  

In doing so, the reform lobby failed to convince frontline communities because residents knew better. Long before media outlets began confronting the crime wave washing over cities, citizens recognized the sheer denial perpetuated by ideologues. Elites lectured captive audiences that rising murder rates were just a “perception” problem —gaslighting victims while avoiding responsibility.

Thankfully, voters and courts are starting to remedy errant reforms by demanding balanced change. For example, “risk assessment” tools gauging defendants’ flight risk and crime probability now guide release decisions for many jurisdictions. Coupled with non-monetary conditions like GPS monitoring, moderate reforms address due process without compromising public safety.  

Appellate judges have already overturned botched bail reforms from Harris County, Texas to California, underscoring the legal infirmity of radical measures. Jurisprudence clearly cautions against blanket release policies that improperly favor perpetrators over public interest. As the pendulum swings back towards equilibrium, officials would be wise to pursue serious evidence-based improvements.

In a country grappling with fear and uncertainty, the only scary thing should be losing our way through partisan rancor. Protecting all citizens equally need not be a political football if we remember that core principle transcending left or right. 

Our bonds as neighbors must prove stronger than any divisions. That starts with leaders regaining lost trust through honesty, responsibility and sensitivity towards victims. Americans are forgiving but not naïve. Ideological experiments tested the public’s patience, but now credibility hangs in the balance. Only by re-centering justice policies around safety, fairness and compassion—for all people—can we move ahead wiser for the hard lessons.

Brian Nichols is host of the Brian Nichols Show at the We Are Libertarians Network. You can follow Brian on X at @bnicholsliberty.

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