Written By: Anton Sawyer
Disclaimer: This article is part 2 of an ongoing series. In an attempt to be thorough, each video and/or course I research will be readily available to all (the free stuff). I would love to sign up for their complete online courses, so if you would like to see me go in-depth to one of their official courses, then please “buy a coffee” (or any other donation). I will use those funds to “advance my education” through the “prestigious” University that is Prager—please head over.
Debunking Courses Offered At Prager University—Lesson 2: “Fewer Penalties, More Crime”
Because of a severe meth addiction I had when I was younger—coupled with the fact that I had a close/working relationship with a pill-runner for a meth cook—I have had my fair share of run-ins with the law and the American judicial system.
Because of this prior experience, along with wanting to further educate myself as to what’s “really going on,” I decided to take my second Prager University course, “Fewer Penalties, More Crime.” So sit back, take a read, and see just how warped the conservative perspective is when it comes to the realities of law enforcement.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for this article, and all articles, can be found at our site's bibliography linked here.
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To keep things clear, all statements from the video will be in bold, and my responses will be in italics.
“[Law enforcement] protects citizens from future crime. But [it] also offers some measure of satisfaction to the victims of crime. This is the basis of civil society.”
Wow, what a conflation.
Yes, we can look through the history of mankind and see that various laws over thousands of years in a multitude of societies have been used as a means to ensure the safety of the general population. But it completely removes the concept that there are inherently unjust laws. To say that ALL laws and law enforcement are to protect citizens from future crime automatically assumes that all laws created by lawmakers are therefore just.
Outside of this fact, there is one element to this statement I wholeheartedly agree with: enforcing laws does give a measure of satisfaction to the victims of crime. This is why we have the death penalty. Though I know that statistically speaking the death penalty does nothing to stop someone from committing a murder, it does allow for the satisfactory feeling of revenge to permeate the souls of the loved ones of those murdered. Watching someone burn for wrongdoing is one of the animalistic sides of our nature that humanity has yet to make amends with.
“Over the last several years, a growing number of American cities have elected prosecutors who are de-emphasizing enforcement; this is by design. These prosecutors openly vow to ‘reform’ the criminal justice system by means of selective prosecution. Their motive, seemingly well-intentioned, is that criminals do better when they’re not incarcerated. That many people who are in jail shouldn’t be there because they don’t present a danger to society.”
This is a way to use half-truths and a complete lack of knowledge on the part of the audience as it pertains to the criminal justice system to their benefit.
First off, the way the information is presented is as if the viewer/student has never faced any kind of police, law enforcement, or the legal system at large. It uses assumptive statements that, if presented to someone with zero experience with law enforcement, would immediately be agreed upon due to this lack of knowledge.
If you have ever been to court or involved as a suspect in a criminal proceeding, you know that the county District Attorney looks at all the cases and does what is within their purview to ensure that their conviction percentages are at a high enough level to win their next election campaign, all while weighing out the need for punishment if the evidence is overwhelming for conviction. You see, a DA is more likely to offer a plea deal to a criminal if the evidence is overwhelming and isn’t an overall detriment to their political future.
For example: if a suspect is videotaped doing a smash-and-grab robbery on a small bodega, and all the evidence shows the suspect is guilty, then they’re going to get a plea deal which will weigh the seriousness of the crime with a punishment befitting society at large—this includes the cost of the trial and its cost to the taxpayers overall. If the crime is rape, murder, or something of a Class-A felony, it isn’t likely to garner a favorable plea deal to the criminal. Therefore, this statement made about reforming the system is a half-truth at best because it isn’t “activist attorneys” that determine who is a criminal or not, literally all DAs do what is being accused of in this video (activist or otherwise). Really, this entire section of the video is nothing more than a thinly veiled attack of the “Defund the police movement.”
“So what does this reform look like? In Boston, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachel Rollins has ceased prosecuting 15 different offense categories.” The video continues by listing other DAs in different states which have modified what they send to trial. These other DAs include Eric Gonzalez of Brooklyn (refusing to prosecute or rerouting many gun offenders to pretrial diversion programs), and DA of Los Angeles George Gascon and how he has prohibited prosecutors from speaking at parole hearings.
Yes, all of this is true, but it is presented in such a way as to exemplify the severity of what can occur in any given area of the nation no matter the political background. But this is the problem with partisan politics; point all the fingers you want at whomever without examining the flaws of your own beliefs.
For example, conservative Salt Lake County (Utah) DA Sim Gill has recently (2021) enacted rules where any criminal who is a suspect in a murder involving a gun will no longer receive a plea deal of any kind. This will force them to trial … at the expense of the taxpayer. Given that there have been hundreds of gun-related homicides in Utah over the last couple of years, along with the backlog from Covid, these criminals are going to be sucking out taxpayer money like crazy until they get through the trial process. All of this will take years and its financial burden will fall directly on the backs of the middle class. But hey, if it means that a murderer will get an extra couple of years on his sentence, then the financial burden thrust onto those who may be impoverished will be worth it, right?
“[LA-DA George Gascon] has also ordered not to pursue sentencing enhancements enacted by elected representatives, including those for ‘Third Strikes’…”
It’s important to know that Prager sets up its videos assuming you know nothing about everything. That you are the kind of person who gets their news from Fox and therefore has no idea about the actual laws and legislation passed.
First off, the “Third Strikes” law was such a complete nightmare that in 2012 the citizens of California voted on Proposition 36 to change the third strike law because of how archaic it was. People were getting life sentences for things like their third, non-violent marijuana possession charge, among other travesties.
Prop 36 passed with 69.3% of the votes and the wording was changed to “the three-strikes sentencing system established by a 1994 ballot initiative, Proposition 184, to impose life sentences when new felony convictions are serious or violent; allowed resentencing for convicts serving life sentences for felonies that were not serious or violent, except in the case of rape, murder, or child molestation.” To say that DA Gascon is picking and choosing who goes to trial for these matters is lacking nuance and providing decent misdirection.
The other element to this statement that oozes hypocrisy is the complaint that the DA has ordered not to pursue sentencing enhancements.
The GOP is worried about DAs NOT pursuing sentencing enhancements?
If they are this worried, then why is there no hate crime legislation against LGBTQ+ citizens in Wyoming? In Wyoming a young man named Matthew Shepard was brutally tortured, tied up to a wooden fence in the middle of nowhere, and was left to die … yet there is not a single hate crime statute in Wyoming ANYWHERE. It seems incredibly disingenuous to complain about a DA not enacting enhancement penalties when there are states out there that have none on the books.
“More than 40 million Americans now live in cities with so-called ‘progressive’ prosecutors.” The video starts labeling different cities and towns where these progressive attitudes are being adopted. “That’s a lot of reform happening outside the institutions designed to make the law; state, county, and city legislatures. And that’s concerning for a couple of reasons. First, is that a single official shouldn’t be able to side-step the political process and decide what laws to enforce or not.”
Again, every jurisdiction has its set of laws that can be both “good” or oppositely “draconian.”
To simplify every single law and DA down to bare-bones talking points without looking at each of the legal differences and needs of the said constituency, it’s forcing a “good and evil” narrative. This works for GOP members, five-year-olds, and those who have no desire to learn the value of nuance.
The other statement which shows a complete lack of how the judicial process works is the one on a single official side-stepping the political process; that is the DAs job. Any time a criminal is detained, the DA looks over the facts and then ultimately determines what is going to be charged exactly and which prosecutor is going to handle it. In this DA decision, they have the legal capability of changing the charges completely from what the arresting officer had put. If you’ve ever been involved in a trial, there is the possibility that completely new charges can stem from new evidence brought about at ANY point of the trial. DAs are not side-stepping the law per se, but rather ensuring the suspect is held accountable for their wrongdoings at any point.
“But a second, larger, more obvious concern is that these changes aren’t making our cities safer. Based on the data, these changes are making our cities less safe. Take, for example, George Gascon’s ban on third strike sentencing. In 2007, economists studied the deterrent effects of California’s three-strikes law. What they found was a 17%-20% reduction in the felony arrest rate of those with two strikes. That’s a pretty big benefit to throw away on one man’s say-so. How about the goal of sharply curtailing pretrial detention? The data out of jurisdictions like New York and Chicago tell us that increasing the number of pretrial defendants out on the street, will most likely mean more crimes committed by that population. One study of Chicago’s bail reform concluded ‘after more generous release procedures were put in place … the number of pretrial [defendants] charged with committing new violent crimes increased by an estimated 33%.”
At this point, the video delves into statistics. Though I could take and break down how erroneous or slanted these numbers are in every single case, I want to look at the two mentioned immediately above as they perfectly illustrate the numerical gymnastics attempted by the GOP.
First off, the third strike law was completely overhauled by the voters of California in 2012. Using statistics from 2007 might make your argument look good, but since the law has been severely modified since the publication of those statistics, they are one step above useless.
When looking at the Chicago numbers, they aren’t exactly as advertised in the video. Using an analytic study from the University of Utah to determine what’s really going on in Chicago seems a little disjointed and far away … and inaccurate. A report issued by the Cook County Chief Judge’s Office on May 9th, 2019 provides a comprehensive summary of the results of the first 15 months since General Order 18.8A was issued in September 2017. That order required that judges immediately cease the practice of setting unaffordable money bonds as a means of keeping people accused of crimes in jail pre-trial and effectively initiated bond reform in Cook County. The report compares the outcomes of bond court decisions since 18.8A to the 15 months preceding the adoption of the General Order.
All in all, it encompasses bail decisions for over 58,000 cases. The effect has been a massive natural experiment to test whether major reductions in pretrial incarceration can happen without hurting public safety or increasing failure to appear rates. The verdict is clear: Bond reform in Cook County has been an overwhelming success. Essentially, all the statistical analysis provided in the video is either outdated or completely removed from the source location.
“Kim Foxx took [the DAs] office in 2016. Under Foxx, between 2017 and 2020, there were 90 more homicides annually than there were between 2013 and 2016—the four-year period before she took office.”
I’m including this for two reasons.
First, there is nothing about the prior DA and their policies that led to such different results. There’s no context there.
The second thing … I think it’s amusing that they are basically saying that there were fewer homicides in Chicago during the Obama administration than there were during the Trump administration. Given how every conservative sees the entire Obama administration as a huge failure, I felt I needed to include this lack of self-awareness.
“We all want to see fewer people in prison. But only common sense would dictate if they stop committing crime and become productive citizens.” The video concludes with, “In fact, crime is surging to levels not seen in decades. The victims are the people who live and work in the very communities these ‘reforms’ are meant to help.”
If this were the truth, then prisons would not be on a for-profit model and would actually be about rehabilitation and not incarceration. Knowing the psychology behind crime and why people live that life, there’s no way just locking them up will fix anything without the rehabilitation element.
If the GOP and Prager were genuinely concerned about cleaning up crime, there is a very different set of steps that would be needed. I know that if you mention anything another country is doing that could help us here in America, it gets immediately attacked and the person making the recommendation is told that they HATE AMERICA. Yet, as a person who values numbers and statistics, there’s no way the American judicial system (in its current design) is going to help curb most crimes at all.
In the early 1990s in Norway, the recidivism rate was around 60%-70% (about the same as in the US). They changed their entire method to were no life sentences, no death penalty, a maximum sentence of two decades for murder, and focused on rehabilitation. Prisoners, who had previously spent most of their day locked up, were offered daily training and educational programs, and the role of the prison guards were completely overhauled. Prison Guard Are Hoidal explained the reasons why the reform is working pretty succinctly. "We are prison 'officers' and of course we make sure an inmate serves his sentence but we also help that person become a better person. We are role models, coaches, and mentors. And since our big reforms, recidivism in Norway has fallen to only 20% after two years and about 25% after five years. So this works!" A key component to why this change came about was based on the thought that knowing if a person brutally murders their family, you’ve only got about two decades before they are going to be your neighbor again. That seems like a pretty good incentive to rehabilitate.
This lesson from Prager U (much like their others), is based on half-truths, statistical analysis that oftentimes is either outdated or not particularly relevant, and uses the ignorance to the realities of nuance found in the American judicial system by their followers to pack a wallop.
It’s easy to see that with this mindset, there is only good vs. evil. That criminals are getting away far too easily and it’s these activist prosecutors that are allowing so much crime to happen on our streets. In summation: this entire situation with law enforcement wouldn’t make me as depressed if I didn’t know that a large swath of the population is buying into all of this, and this section of the population can vote those into office which will only keep this system broken. And of course, they will do it with a smile because videos like this help them to “know for a fact” that they are correct.
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