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One more prison should do it....

Fear itself seems to be the driving force behind American crime policy these days. Riding a fear-of-crime wave to victory in the recent New York City mayoral election, mayor-elect Rudolph Giuliani triumphantly proclaimed a "new" policy of mass arrests to deal with crime in his city. But police chiefs and mayors in towns like Boston and San Diego find Giuliani's proposed policy to be as laughable as it is dangerous. It's been tried, they say, and it has failed. Sergeant Detective Robert O'Toole, a 25-year-old veteran of Boston's own (often overwhelmed) force, made his feelings plain to the Times: "We started saying, |There's got to be another ways.' It's not just arrests. It's social services, it's getting the community involved. . . . We at least attempt to do these things versus arrest, arrest, arrest."

Arrest, arrest, arrest. The courts are packed, the prisons overcrowded and increasingly inhumane. Police and prosecutors act--and react--with gross disregard for legality or decency as the legal landscape begins to look more and More like "NYPD Blue" And despite the fact that the majority of those currently in prison are people of color, callous policy analysts of all stripes-conservative, libertarian, and liberal, from Robert J. Samuelson to Charles Murray to Mickey Kaus--argue that the time has come to abolish the welfare system entirely and let "those people" learn to shift for themselves. In short, we must supplement our war on crime with a war on unwed teenage single mothers.

As Jerome Miller observes in this issue's Humanist interview, race is the determining, though unspoken, factor in the contemporary debates about crime policy. Over two-thirds of the people in prison are nonwhite minorities even though whites commit the majority of violent crimes in America. In fact, African-Americans remain, more often than not, the primary targets of a criminal justice policy which has less to do with justice than with surveillance, disruption, and systemic racism.

Clearly, a good deal of hysteria about crime has been stoked by the national media. Robert Elias provides us with a context for thinking about the media's role in helping to create our failed, "get tough" crime policies and perceptions. Elias examined every general crime story reported in the major newsweeklies between 1956 and 1991, and his conclusions are telling. (In our next issue, he will follow up with a humanist blueprint for a peace movement" against crime.) Finally, in a somewhat lighter vein, our own Brian Siano considers the ongoing debate over television violence, taking a closer look at the "scientific" claims for cause and effect reported in the major media and suggesting that an anti-TV violence campaign will have a negative impact on the imaginative lives of children--the very people we claim to be "protecting."

The time has clearly come for a more rational, more compassionate, more humanistic policy on crime. It's beyond serious question now that our get-tough crime wars have been a national disaster. As the articles herein suggest, one more prison won't do it.
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Title Annotation:crime policy
Author:O'Sullivan, Gerry
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Previous Article:Chronicles of Dissent: Interviews with Noam Chomsky.
Next Article:Official stories: media coverage of American crime policy.

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