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Soft Eyes for Criminal Justice Solutions: A Tale of Four Cities

Soft Eyes for Criminal Justice Solutions (full series)
Nonprofit Donations | A Tale of Four Cities | The Soros Prosecutors
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A Tale of Four Cities

Some big cities have recently become sharply worse, but the full picture is more complicated.

In 2021, records were set for total murders in 10 of America’s 40 most populated cities. New York and Chicago weren’t on the list, but for very different reasons.

Since 1996, New York City’s murder rate per capita has been reliably lower than the national average.

The Big Apple had 468 murders in 2020, a 46 percent increase above 2019, but still low enough to leave the nation’s largest city with a homicide rate per capita that was less than the national average, let alone the average of all cities.

Chicago, on the other hand, had a horrendous 2,267 people murdered in just the three years from 2020 through 2022. Despite having three times as many people to get the job done, New Yorkers took most of the previous six years to slaughter as many of their neighbors as Chicagoans did in the last three.

Last summer, voters in San Francisco recalled controversial prosecutor Chesa Boudin over the perception that he was allowing lawlessness. It’s definitely not an exaggeration to claim robberies, thefts, and property crime were rampant in the city during 2020—all far worse than the average of the nation’s 20 largest cities.

Such clear failings could have animated the 55 percent of voters who pulled the lever to prematurely remove Boudin.

But oddly, while people’s “stuff” wasn’t safe at all under Boudin, the people—relatively speaking—generally were. The rates of homicide and aggravated assault in 2020 were far below that of the nation’s largest cities. San Francisco’s homicide rate in 2020 was even lower than the national average, which includes all villages, farms, forests, cities, suburbs, exurbs, ghost towns, and your town.

Washington, DC, has recently had its share of big city violent crime. The DC criminal code was written more than a century ago.

These two facts became needlessly ensnarled in a controversy involving the DC Justice Lab, a small local nonprofit that reported $1.2 million in revenue for 2021. Among other ideas in a proposed new criminal code for the city, DC Justice Lab supported giving out 12- to 24-year prison sentences for evildoers convicted of armed carjackings.

Locking away an armed robber for up to two dozen years may seem reasonable, but it became a bad idea to some because the current criminal code allows judges to hit carjackers with 40-year maximum sentences.

Never mind that a 2021 report from the DC Sentencing Commission showed the average sentences for the offense had been 15 years. Many other sentencing changes in the proposed new criminal code were similarly criticized.

The DC mayor vetoed the proposal, but the city council overrode her veto. At this point DC might have implemented a controversial, yet not terribly extreme, revision to its criminal code. But the federal government had something to say about it.

Earlier this year Republicans in Congress introduced a resolution to block implementation of the misunderstood carjacker penalty and the rest of the new criminal code. Some Democrats and, most importantly, President Joe Biden supported the move.

There are groups with extreme—arguably silly and dangerous—criminal justice ideas that have been receiving huge funding increases over the past several years. Despite the national controversy, DC Justice Lab hasn’t been in either the crazy or the money.

The Extremes . . . and the Middle

For example, there is Color of Change.

“Police do not keep our communities safe, they are dangerous and have demonstrated over and over again an unwillingness to be held accountable,” declared a recent petition campaign from the advocacy nonprofit.

All police?

The campaign advised activists to “Tell Congress: Defund the police now!”

The Color of Change political advocacy nonprofit received $20.4 million for 2020, nearly eight times what the group took in during 2016.

Since 2016, Open Philanthropy has also given a combined $4.5 million to Color of Change and the Color of Change Education Fund, its tax exempt educational arm. Other big donors during the era included Rockefeller Philanthropy and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, each granting more than $2.5 million. Another $3.8 million came through the combined efforts of the New Venture Fund (an Arabella Advisors controlled nonprofit), Wellspring, MacArthur, and Public Welfare.

The “#DefundThePolice” perspective is richly promoted by the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. BLMGNF identifies as an “abolitionist movement” that believes “prisons, police and all other institutions that inflict violence on Black people must be abolished and replaced by institutions that value and affirm the flourishing of Black lives.” The policy proposals promoted by the group include “decriminalizing recreational drug use & retroactively pardoning drug offenders.”

According to its first independently filed IRS Form 990, the Black Lives Matter GNF raised more than $79.6 million for the year ending June 2021. Before that, it was a fiscally sponsored project of the Tides Nexus.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) shows how to overreact in the other direction. During a June 2021 speech, hosted by the free market Manhattan Institute, Cotton argued that “we don’t have an over-incarceration problem, we have an under-incarceration problem” and that “we must invest in our nation’s prison system.”

Similarly, a spring 2022 report in City Journal, a Manhattan Institute magazine, was titled: “Mass Incarceration Hysteria.” “Incarceration, appropriately applied, represents effective public policy, worthy of investment,” argued the City Journal co-authors, Matt DeLisi and John Paul Wright. They explain:

While some states and public officials tout a hard line against crime, the reality is that many serious, recidivistic criminal offenders rarely see the inside of a prison cell. When they do, most get released after serving time well short of their actual sentence. Incarceration is the proverbial revolving door. Nevertheless, the mass incarceration narrative remains potent and retains bipartisan support—but its historical and empirical foundation is weak.

The Manhattan Institute, with researchers who address many issues in addition to criminal justice, raised $18.5 million in 2020—about $60 million less than the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.

An ostensible free market ally of Manhattan, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) raised $17.7 million in 2020. Millions were spent on TPPF’s Right on Crime initiative. Since 2016 the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Foundation has given $2.5 million specifically to Right on Crime. Pew, Arnold, Tides and Public Welfare have given a combined $3.5 million to the TPPF over the same period.

“Because government exists to secure liberties that can only be enjoyed to the extent there is public safety,” explains a Right on Crime policy statement, “state and local policymakers must make fighting crime their top priority, including utilizing prisons to incapacitate violent offenders and career criminals.”

But these are tough on crime Texans who don’t play to stereotype.

“Prisons are overused, however, when nonviolent offenders who may be safely supervised in the community are given lengthy sentences,” says the next part of the statement. “Prisons provide diminishing returns when such offenders emerge more disposed to re-offend than when they entered prison.”

Right on Crime research shows that corrections spending collectively costs state budgets $50 billion per year, with 1 in 33 American adults either incarcerated, on parole, or otherwise under criminal justice supervision. They compare this unpleasantly to when Ronald Reagan was president, when there was just $11 billion in (inflation adjusted) state corrections spending, and only 1 in 77 adults in cages or being supervised by government.

For the limited government Texans, this is far too much government. They recommend that conservatives “address runaway spending on prisons just as they do with education and health care, subjecting the same level of skepticism and scrutiny to all expenditures of taxpayers’ funds.”

In the next installment, George Soros has spent at least $35 million on electing left-wing district attorneys.

Ken Braun

Ken Braun is CRC’s senior investigative researcher and authors profiles for and the Capital Research magazine. He previously worked for several free market policy organizations, spent six…
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