Even some Democrats are sensing a shift in the political winds and adapting accordingly. The leading challenger to Gov. Kathy Hochul in New York’s Democratic primary race, Representative Tom Suozzi of Long Island, this week joined Republicans in Albany who have criticized the state’s 2020 bail reform law as too soft on dangerous criminals.
“When there’s no consequences for crime,” Suozzi said, “crime keeps going up.”
‘Retrenchment,’ not reversal
What a return to “tough-on-crime” messaging could mean for policy at the national and state level remains an open question.
The United States presides over one of the largest inmate populations on Earth — about two million incarcerated people spread across more than 1,500 state prisons, 102 federal prisons and thousands of other detention facilities large and small. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden pledged to cut the number of people in prison by more than half, but there is scant sign of progress toward that goal.
A conservative turn against reducing the prison population would make Biden’s promise nearly impossible to fulfill.
Adam Gelb, the president and chief executive of the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan policy and research organization based in Atlanta, said he saw signs of “retrenchment” on the right, but added, “Too many strands of the conservative coalition have been woven together to unravel entirely.”
That coalition has been an unusual set of political bedfellows: fiscal conservatives who object to prisons as a bloated, expensive bureaucracy; libertarians who fear government overreach into people’s private lives, especially when it comes to drug use; and evangelical Christians who believe in second chances and redemption. Hard-right traditionalists like Cotton and Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri were never part of that group, advocates emphasize.
Meanwhile, Republican-controlled states including Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah are all moving ahead with moves to limit no-knock warrants, revamp civil forfeiture rules and expunge criminal records for nonviolent offenses.