Yahoo News: Bail reform is good for law and order

This article was published on Yahoo News.

It was also featured by other outlets including the Charleston Mail-Gazette (West Virginia), the Deming Headlight (New Mexico) and the Jacksonville Journal-Courier (Illinois).

Fearing for their political lives, many elected officials in New York are hurriedly backing down from previous commitments on bail reform. The measures had rolled back the use of cash bail, except for some violent crimes and other exceptional circumstances. That meant an end to jailing people before their trial for months or years, for the crime of being unable to pay their bail.

Now, it seems cash bail is back on the menu, despite all the evidence suggesting that will be a bad thing for law and order.

A new study, The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention Revisited, examined data from 1.5 million people booked into jail in Kentucky between 2009 and 2018 to investigate whether cash bail is as effective and vital as its supporters claim. The researchers’ findings were striking. Not only is the widespread use of cash bail ineffectual but in fact counterproductive. It makes communities less safe.

It might be counter-intuitive, but avoiding putting people behind bars until we have no other choice makes the public safer. In other words, jailing defendants before they have been found guilty of any crime makes them more likely to reoffend and less likely to turn up for their trial. It therefore makes bail less effective and undermines law and order more broadly.

Think of it this way. If you were falsely accused of a crime, you would have the constitutional right as an American to a fair trial — a right you would be very grateful for, no doubt. But how would your attitude to the justice system change if you were then detained for months — or in some cases even years — before your trial has begun? You would have been put behind bars practically indefinitely without even the chance to voice your defense before a jury of your peers.

Would finding yourself in that predicament inspire confidence in the justice system? Would it make you believe in its sincere desire to rehabilitate criminals and prioritize public safety above all else? Of course not. Unsurprisingly, foregoing the presumption of innocence and instead incarcerating people who have been found guilty of no crime stokes resentment in American institutions and inevitably leads to worse outcomes for everyone.

As if that were not enough, the cash bail system also represents disastrously inefficient government spending. According to data from the Prison Policy Initiative, on any given day, a whopping 400,000 people presumed innocent are held in pretrial jails across the country. They make up more than two-thirds of jail populations. That means your tax dollars are being spent incarcerating thousands upon thousands of people who have no need to be behind bars and have not been found guilty of any crime.

The heart of the problem is that the cash bail system decides who to release and who to detain based on wealth, rather than danger to the community. Too often, those charged with non-violent offenses are incarcerated entirely unnecessarily, at great cost to them and the taxpayer. Bail reform does not mean allowing violent, dangerous offenders to walk free, but rather limiting the use of pretrial detention to cases when it is truly merited.

Despite the fears of New York officials, there is no data whatsoever to suggest a link between bail reform and the recent spike in crime. But the populace is always right, and since politicians prioritize self-preservation above almost everything else, they seem worryingly willing to give in to the counter-factual narrative and back down on bail reform.

That is a bad thing for the American justice system and for taxpayers’ wallets. It means tax dollars are used less effectively and it means we are less safe. For all our sakes, politicians must put facts above feelings and consign the unnecessary overuse of cash bail to the history books.

Free The People: A Flavored Tobacco Ban in Colorado Would Harm Public Health and the Rule Of Law

This article was published by Free The People.

Lawmakers are considering a bill which would prohibit flavored tobacco and nicotine products. While it is no doubt well-intentioned, passing the bill into law would be a grave mistake. A flavored tobacco ban is a very poor way to confront addiction. It would put businesses and jobs at risk, lower tax revenues, and pose a danger to communities through illicit markets.

The economic costs of a ban alone would be substantial. It would hit the more than 5,000 licensed Colorado business which sell tobacco products to adults aged 21 and older. In the last decade, those businesses sold around $4.6 billion in flavored tobacco products in entirely legitimate transactions which would be criminalized under the new legislation.

What’s more, the ban would hit everyone’s wallets, not just those who trade in tobacco. A ban on flavored products would take a huge chunk out of the annual $406.3 million of tobacco excise and sales tax revenue in Colorado. By banning the sales of flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes to adults, approximately $1.2 billion in revenue would be at risk over the next ten years.

Either the state finds itself with considerably less money to spend overnight or, worse, politicians decide to increase other taxes on hardworking Colorado residents to make up the shortfall. In either scenario, it is likely that programs which rely on government funding such as housing, local governments, K-12 education, and even tobacco prevention programs would lose out, since they depend specifically on revenues from the cigarette tax.

Alongside the economic impact, a short-sighted move to ban flavored tobacco products would bring additional costs for Colorado communities by stoking illicit trade. Removing these products from the legal market would create a whole new market operating outside of the law, meaning cashflow moves from licensed businesses to criminal networks, which then profit from tobacco smuggling.

Based on what has happened in the past in similar cases, there is no doubt about how this would play out—prohibiting entire sections of the consumer market always leads to a boom in the black market. That would heap additional pressure onto already stressed law enforcement organizations like the State Police, County Sheriffs, and City and Town Correctional Departments, as well as courts and correctional facilities.

A ban would also put ordinary consumers of tobacco in unnecessary danger by forcing them to resort to unlicensed, unregulated, unaccountable vendors to buy their tobacco products. They will no longer be confident that the products they consume are safe and tested.

Perhaps most damningly of all, going ahead with the ban would be undemocratic. Voters are staunchly opposed to it. The data suggests they overwhelmingly view these kinds of laws as a new form of prohibition and resent them for that reason. 77 percent of all voters say being aged 21 or older means you, not the government, get to make choices for yourself, including what legal products to buy. People want to be treated as adults.

Protecting children from tobacco and nicotine addiction is a laudable aim, but a blanket ban would bring with it too much collateral damage. Instead, Colorado should focus its attention on harm reduction solutions. Cigarette sales to under-21s are already illegal. The strategy for confronting youth tobacco use should center around enforcing the law as it stands.

There is plenty more that can be done to help without fueling other issues, too. For instance, investment in education and cessation support would go much further towards safeguarding public health than a ban. Marketing restrictions and licensing rules, for instance, should be tightened to bring regulation of smokeless e-vapor products in line with those for cigarettes and traditional tobacco products.

The proposed ban, then, fails on all fronts. It would be bad for criminal justice, bad for public health, and voters do not want it. There are ample unexplored avenues to help address the underage use of tobacco without prohibiting adult choices. We are all better off exploring those long before considering ineffective and harmful blanket bans.

International Policy Digest: Cash Bail Leads to Jail Overcrowding – And That’s a Waste of Your Tax Dollars

This article was published by the International Policy Digest.

On any given day, an estimated 445,000 people are incarcerated in American jails before their trial has even begun. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, pretrial detainees represent more than two-thirds of jail populations.

Throughout the pandemic, disgruntled Americans have written countless thousands of words about excessive government spending and wasteful use of tax dollars. But one of the most egregious examples of wildly inefficient use of government money is the millions and millions of dollars spent each year on holding people in jail before their trial.

The American justice system promises a presumption of innocence before trial. Why, then, are so many resources expended on incarcerating those presumed innocent pretrial, in much the same way as they would be thrown behind bars if they had just been found guilty?

Cash bail is the heart of the problem. Judges often decide that defendants must fork out substantial bail sums if they want to remain free before their trial. If they are unable to pay up – which happens very often – they end up behind bars, sometimes for years, awaiting their trial. Every defendant who finds themselves in jail before their trial is an additional strain on America’s purse strings.

Holding people in jail before their trial is bad for justice outcomes, too. According to a new study, “The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention Revisited,” time spent in custody pretrial has no consistent public benefit. For example, increasing the amount of time spent in pretrial detention was consistently associated with an increased chance of rearrest.

Perhaps worst of all, the current system does not even achieve what it sets out to do – encouraging defendants to turn up at court. The research, based on data from almost 1.5 million people booked into jail in Kentucky between 2009 and 2018, found no relationship between the amount of time spent in pretrial detention and the odds of a defendant failing to appear in court.

The cash bail system, then, leads to overcrowding of jails and gratuitous wastage of tax dollars. It is harmful to both the defendant and the wider public and it represents yet another unnecessary logistical challenge for the already stretched American justice system.

The system badly needs rethinking. Firstly, we must stop so readily jailing people during the pretrial phase. Those who pose a serious threat to public safety must, of course, be kept behind bars but those cases should be treated as the exception, not the rule. There is no reason for you and me to pay, through our taxes, to incarcerate many thousands of people who do not need to be in jail and may yet be found innocent.

There are plenty of ways to get around the all-or-nothing approach of cash bail versus incarceration. For instance, other countries around the world have found creative ways of keeping tabs on pretrial defendants, such as having police regularly knock on their door to ensure they have not left town or asking them to sign in weekly at a police station. Even electronic tags are a much more efficient, less harmful alternative to pretrial jail time.

It is imperative we educate judges, prosecutors, and the public on how pretrial detention undermines community safety and wastes government resources. The current system is unnecessarily costly and does not make us any safer. We must reconsider it.

RealClear Policy: Censoring Online Pornography Is A Slippery Slope For Free Speech

This article was published by RealClear Policy.

Covid-19 taught us a great deal about misinformation online — or it should have. In the space of a few months, the Wuhan lab leak theory went from fringe conspiracy theory in need of censorship, lest it spread, to the consensus among the mainstream scientific community. The episode brought into sharp focus how hard it can be to tell harmful content from harmful censorship, and the flaws of any attempt to centralize and codify content moderation.

Ever determined to ignore the lessons of recent history, politicians are pressing ahead with a censorship agenda. A new wave of content moderation bills has cropped up across the country. From Minnesota to Tennessee to California, lawmakers are inserting themselves into the relationship between the internet and the consumer, this time under the guise of protecting children from harmful content such as pornography.

Thousands of pages could be written about the individual issues with each of the dozens of similar bills, but they are all cut from the same cloth. They represent an approach to policing the internet whose flaws have been repeatedly exposed. Government cannot unilaterally block access to content it deems harmful, nor should it try to.

Using the government as an adult content watchdog is a slippery slope. If we permit the state to prevent access to pornography, there is no clear logical conclusion to that line of thinking. Once we have consented to sidestepping our First Amendment rights, where does it stop? Will we also allow the government to determine the types of videos we can watch when it comes to other forms of entertainment? How about political speeches? Do we really want politicians creating lists of websites we are forbidden from viewing, even when their content is perfectly legal?

Mission creep is a real problem. Lawmakers are incapable of staying within their bounds. They are practically guaranteed to use any new powers we grant them to grow the extent of their influence over our lives as far as they can manage. If you think Big Tech censorship is bad, it is nothing compared to what would happen if our leaders gained the right to dictate what content you can or cannot see.

Ironically, there is huge overlap between the politicians who bemoan — rightly — the apparent suppression of counter-mainstream views about the origins of the coronavirus and those who believe government should have the right to decide what content adults can and cannot access.

There are few limits to how far the pro-censorship lobby want government to go in cracking down on content they do not like. What would a state-censored internet look like in America? Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security will hand out criminal penalties against people working in the porn industry, and consumers themselves. While that would no doubt create a substantial new revenue stream for the government, it is not representative of how a free, civilized country treats the internet.

Before long, the black market would rear its ugly head. Prohibitions or onerous new restrictions on legal pornography will only push the industry underground, where cooperation with law enforcement will be non-existent and porn money would flow much more easily into the wider criminal world. Such a popular, profitable industry being forced out of the purview of the law would be a boon for criminals who operate on the dark web.

The push to criminalize porn will do little to protect children, who are increasingly au fait with using VPNs and other tools to circumvent censors, but it will open a backdoor to further censorship and fuel criminality.

Jason Reed is the spokesperson for Young Voices and a policy analyst and political commentator for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624.