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November 24, 2020

"Fake News, Real Policy: Combatting Fear And Misinformation In Criminal Justice"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new R Street policy study authored by Emily Mooney and Casey Witte. Here is part of its introduction:

Currently, opportunities for and examples of misinformation and fear-mongering within the criminal justice system are bountiful.  The United States is facing a global health crisis and struggling to productively address long-standing issues of racial injustice.  In the first half of 2020, our nation continued to see property crime and most forms of violent crime decrease, while murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rates (although historically still low) rose by nearly 15 percent when compared to the first half of 2019, while aggravated assaults rose by about 5 percent. Although still one of the most crime-free times in our nation’s history, many have been quick to blame this increase on policy changes, such early prison releases due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and civil unrest.9\ Yet, as experts have pointed out, the intersecting forces of a global pandemic, economic recession, racial unrest and nationwide protests mean it will take more time, data and intentional analysis to decipher the causal mechanisms of any current crime trends.

In both the past and present, it has been easy for criminal justice policy to be driven by fear and emotional policymaking rather than a sober assessment of the facts. This occurs for somewhat natural reasons, as the consequences of criminal justice policy failures can appear more immediate and visceral: the potential for the death of a loved one, lost property or abuse are far more tangible concepts than cybersecurity threats or green energy.  This is likely, at least in part, due to human memory — research shows experiences and events tied to strong emotions are more memorable than less dramatic or weighted incidents.  Further, policy success is often measured by recidivism — a zero-sum measure of an individual’s return to crime — rather than other metrics which show incremental progress.  On top of this, the media, more often than not, focuses on policy failures rather than policy successes.

Yet, fear-based and emotionally-driven policy debates and policymaking are a disservice to the American public.  Policymakers and the public may incorrectly deduce or be blind to the collateral consequences of their policies and are prone to letting biases impact their decision-making.  As a result, the same problems remain, which cost life, property and liberty in the process.

This paper seeks to address this trend by first examining the relationships between fear, misinformation and policy and then providing illustrative examples of modern criminal justice myths alongside the evidence stacked against them.  It will then conclude with a short list of policy solutions to combat misinformation and fear-mongering in criminal justice policy.

November 24, 2020 at 02:12 PM | Permalink

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