The incoming district attorney for Queens supports “shorter” sentences for violent crimes, or no jail time at all. Ultimately, she wants to reduce prison populations to “zero.” That will increase the crime rate, leading to more murders and rapes, and an increase in violence.
On Tuesday, Tiffany Cabán won the Democratic Primary in strongly Democratic Queens, the largest borough in New York City. That effectively guarantees that she will become the borough’s top prosecutor. As Time Magazine notes, she “is likely to win the general election in November.”
But Cabán is not shying away from the reality that even if criminal-justice systems eradicates nonviolent drug offenses, mass incarceration will remain: More people are in state and local prisons for violent offenses than they are for nonviolent drug offenses. “To say that we are going to make a distinction — between violent crime and nonviolent crime — we’re not going to really dismantle the system of mass incarceration and understanding that it’s not about what the nature of the crime is so often but what the driver and causer of the behavior is and what can we do to stop it, to interrupt it, to change it, and we should be looking to do that in every way we possibly can that doesn’t involve putting somebody in a cage.” And that goes for any violent crime. “We will not exclude any crime for consideration for restorative justice and/or alternatives to incarceration,” she wrote to me in a text message. “For cases where those are not a good fit and we seek prison time, we will seek shorter prison sentences, seek restorative processes when survivors request them.”
Indeed, Cabán says she will “work toward ‘population zero’ in prisons.” If America’s prisons have a population of zero, that will require that thousands and thousands of murderers and rapists be released.
Socialist Jacobin Magazine celebrated her election, in an article titled, “Tiffany Cabán, a Socialist in the District Attorney’s Office.” The Democratic Socialists of America backed Cabán; so did Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Giving criminals shorter sentences — or no sentence at all — will embolden criminals to commit more crimes. Deterrence works. For example, studies have found that harsher sentences for murder save lives by deterring murder more effectively than more lenient sentences, as the Associated Press noted in 2007. Prison sentences also reduce crime by incapacitating criminals and preventing them from committing more crimes while they are in jail. The National Bureau of Economic Research has a web page titled “Sentence Enhancements Reduce Crime.” It discusses how California’s Proposition 8 reduced crime by keeping “repeat offenders” off of the streets. By increasing penalties, it “helped to reduce crime,” according to a study. “Because convicted criminals were serving longer sentences, years after the law’s change they were still locked up, rather than out on the streets committing crime.”
After prison sentences for murder became shorter in the 1960’s, violent crime skyrocketed. As Professor Barry Latzer noted in The Wall Street Journal, “murderers released in 1960 had served a median 4.3 years, which wasn’t long to begin with. By 1970 that figure had dropped to 3.5 years.” “Between 1960 and 1990, the rate of violent crime in the U.S. surged by over 350%, according to FBI data, the biggest sustained buildup in the country’s history.”
Geographic comparisons also show that longer prison sentences reduce rates of violent crime and property crime, as studies of neighboring jurisdictions show. As I noted in 2016:
Longer sentences save lives by deterring crime, as comparisons of neighboring states with different crime rates but similar economic or other characteristics illustrate. For example, Virginia has a much lower crime and murder rate than neighboring Maryland, which has a more permissive attitude towards crime and punishment. Virginia’s Fairfax County has a much lower crime rate than demographically similar, and similarly wealthy, neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, despite having had a similar violent crime rate as recently as 1978, when criminal penalties were more similar between Maryland and Virginia. Today, prison sentences are much longer in Virginia, and parole is largely banned in Virginia. In 2012, Maryland was among the top ten most dangerous states, with a gun-related homicide rate of 6.4 per 100,000, according to the Justice Department. In 2007-2010, Maryland’s gun-related homicide rate was 5.53 per 100,000 versus 3.16 per 100,000 in Virginia.
In 2010, the Washington Examiner reported on a study comparing crime rates in these two similar areas governed by different criminal laws. They ended up with very different rates of violent crime:
Montgomery and Fairfax counties are similar in size, population and demographics, but the Maryland county has seen nearly 25 percent more serious crime recently than its neighbor across the Potomac, a study found. … The rate of violent crimes in Montgomery is 235 per 100,000 residents, in Fairfax it’s 78 per 100,000 residents.