On February 9, 2017, President Trump issued three executive orders focused on public safety. These orders raise serious concerns about how the new administration will treat youth who are in trouble with the law and communities most affected by crime. Far from addressing the real issues in our justice system, these actions actually threaten public safety.
Violent crime is at a 35-year low. Despite this data, the President has charged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to establish the Task Force on Crime Reduction because of “high rates of violent crime” and is charging the task force to respond to this problem with a “focus on law and order.” Yet nowhere in its charge is there language indicating that it should assess best practices in crime prevention and intervention. This is troubling, since there is longstanding and voluminous research – much of which emerges from the U.S. Department of Justice -- showing that policies that further community-based supports, mental health services, education, job training, eliminating unnecessary incarceration, and robust reentry services are fundamental elements to protecting public safety. There is also considerable evidence that punitive approaches are ineffective, costly, and unfairly target youth and communities of color, and threaten public safety. In fact, in recent years, conservative lawmakers have played a leadership role in reform efforts across the country to address our mass incarceration problem, largely caused by ineffective “law and order” policies. Just this week, 200 law enforcement leaders heralded the 50% drop in crime since the 1990’s and outlined ways federal dollars can keep communities safe while also reducing incarceration.
The President’s order to Prevent Violence against Law Enforcement is premised on the false implication that police deaths have risen, and that this necessitates “defining new crimes of violence,” and “establishing mandatory minimum sentences for existing crimes.” All loss of life is tragic, especially so for those who die in the line of service to this country. We should stand with all victims’ families and fully support them as they attempt to put their lives back together after their loss. Police agencies themselves have outlined numerous practices to help improve public safety and the safety of police officers, based on decades of research. Some of their recommendations include engaging local communities as partners in crime reduction, more education and training for law enforcement officers in de-escalation and conflict resolution tactics, standards for use of new technology that promote public safety without jeopardizing civil rights, and policies that ensure policing practices are fair and reflective of community values. That's not all, however. Nowhere in the President’s order is there a call for a review of the manner of and response to the deaths of citizens at the hands of law enforcement officers, which in the last year numbered ten times higher than law enforcement fatalities.
Finally, the President’s order on Transnational Criminal Organizations raises concerns about executive branch overreach in its approach to immigrants in the United States. Its hyperbolic framing around the problems with cross-border criminal activity may lead to state and local law enforcement assuming that all immigrant youth who get in trouble with the law are part of a transnational gang. In fact, there is substantial research that shows that youth who get in trouble with the law frequently commit offenses in collaboration with loose affiliations of peers that do not themselves constitute a gang. This order may result in immigrant youth getting falsely accused of being part of a transnational gang and facing stiffer penalties and deportation as a result.
The President’s executive orders threaten to undermine recent improvements in our justice system and are out of touch with the President's conservative base. The following national and state organizations call on the administration and the new attorney general to promote public safety by basing policies on both accurate data and the well-established and sound body of research on what works to prevent and respond to crime.
BMore Awesome Inc.
California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice
Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth
Campaign for Youth Justice
Center for Children's Law and Policy
Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ)
Futures Without Violence
Iowa Coalition 4 Juvenile Justice (a focus group of Iowa CURE)
Justice For Families
Justice Policy Institute
Juvenile Law Center
National Juvenile Justice Network
National Youth Advocate Program
Southern Poverty Law Center
The Sentencing Project
Voices for Children in Nebraska
W. Haywood Burns Institute