MI scholars comment on proposed amendment to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act
“American prosecutors are invested with great authority and responsibility. As with all elected officials, however, the public must not turn away from scrutinizing their performance and holding them accountable. Transparency in government enables citizens to do so, and, in the process, builds the public trust. The proposed amendment to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act would require district attorney's offices in large jurisdictions to compile and submit to the U.S. attorney general information about cases involving serious crime. By promoting greater transparency in the criminal justice system, it will better equip voters to fulfill their civic duties.
But the benefits of this proposed legislation extend well beyond transparency. Some DA's offices do not collect or digitize data consistently. Formatting practices also vary across thousands of local jurisdictions. This bill will prompt improved and consistent criminal justice data practices across the country. Not only will that help law enforcement officials better understand and address serious crime, it will allow for more insightful and impactful academic research. Americans from all political backgrounds can get behind these sensible and broadly appealing goals.”
- John Ketcham is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
“Proponents of the sorts of reforms necessary to reduce our national incarceration rate to the point of parity with the Western European democracies have consistently made two claims: That prosecutors should be at the forefront of a robust decarceration effort, given the decisions over which they have power, and that the data is on their side. Surprisingly, though, the sorts of datapoints that would give the public a better idea about the wisdom of a more lenient approach to criminal prosecution remain out of reach in far too many jurisdictions. Making that data available wouldn’t just serve transparency, it would also facilitate the grounding of what is an incredibly important public debate in objective reality as opposed to vague rhetoric.”
- Rafael Mangual is a senior fellow and head of research for the Policing and Public Safety Initiative at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. His first book, Criminal (In)Justice, will be available in July 2022.
“Transparency in the criminal justice system is something we could always use more of. Many progressive prosecutors across the nation have taken important steps to advance understanding of and accountability for their work by releasing unprecedented data on their prosecution choices. This amendment, if passed, will expand this work to numerous public attorneys, giving their constituents a look into one of the most important and least understood components of the justice system. At the same time, it will allow researchers at places like the Department of Justice or the Manhattan Institute to truly measure how prosecution is changing, and better understand the impact of these changes on justice and safety for everyone.”
- Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal.
“Many of America’s largest cities have been facing significant upticks in violent crime; some cities have seen all-time-high murder rates. While some have pointed fingers at the Covid pandemic lockdowns, the crime spikes also correspond to a host of policy changes as well as the takeover of local prosecutor offices by “progressive prosecutors” elected specifically on platforms seeking to scale back law enforcement, running campaigns with substantial outside funding. Among these is Chesa Boudin, recalled just yesterday by voters in deep-blue San Francisco. Unfortunately, data collected by prosecutors’ offices is often sparse and inconsistent, making it difficult to evaluate fully the impact of these changes. The proposed amendments the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act would help fill this data gap in large urban areas, and would be an appropriate use of Congress’s power of the purse to help inform national policymaking in this area.”
- James Copland is a senior fellow and director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute.