By David M. Greenwald
George Soros has become a boogeyman not just to the right, but also to the status quo, anti-reform movement. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Tuesday, Soros laid out why he continues to support reform prosecutors.
For Soros, there is a need to have a discussion about the response to crime without “demagoguery and divisive partisan attacks that dominate the debate and obscure the issues.”
He expressed his concern about crime, the need for the government to ensure public safety.
Yet he also recognizes “our system is rife with injustices that make us all less safe. The idea that we need to choose between justice and safety is false. They reinforce each other: If people trust the justice system, it will work. And if the system works, public safety will improve.”
This is critical to understanding the reform mindset. Ninety-five percent of those who will be incarcerated will one day be released and, currently, the system does a poor job of helping to support them once released, which has led to increased recidivism.
Moreover, as Soros points out, the system is inherently unfair, reflecting the racial divides of America.
“We need to acknowledge that black people in the U.S. are five times as likely to be sent to jail as white people. That is an injustice that undermines our democracy,” he writes.
Not only does the system not work well, not only is inherently racist, but it is also expensive.
“We spend $81 billion every year keeping around two million people in prisons and jails,” Soros points out. “We need to invest more in preventing crime with strategies that work deploying mental-health professionals in crisis situations, investing in youth job programs and creating opportunities for education behind bars. This reduces the likelihood that those prisoners will commit new crimes after release.”
Soros clearly favors a reform approach.
He writes, “In recent years, reform-minded prosecutors and other law enforcement officials around the country have been coalescing around an agenda that promises to be more effective and just. This agenda includes prioritizing the resources of the criminal justice system to protect people against violent crime. It urges that we treat drug addiction as a disease, not a crime. And it seeks to end the criminalization of poverty and mental illness.”
He also pushed back on the notion that reform-minded prosecutors are behind a surge in crime.
“The research I’ve seen says otherwise,” he said. “The most rigorous academic study, analyzing data across 35 jurisdictions, shows no connection between the election of reform-minded prosecutors and local crime rates.”
In fact, he notes, as others have, that “violent crime in recent years has generally been increasing more quickly in jurisdictions without reform-minded prosecutors. Murder rates have been rising fastest in some Republican states led by tough-on-crime politicians.”
There is other research that points to a more likely cause behind the recent increase in crime.
Among these, he said, is “a disturbing rise in mental illness among young people due to the isolation imposed by Covid lockdowns, a pullback in policing in the wake of public criminal justice reform protests, and increases in gun trafficking.”
Soros argues, “Many of the same people who call for more-punitive criminal justice policies also support looser gun laws.”
Soros argues this is why he has supported the election of those prosecutors who support reform.