The United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, at number 6, according to recent figures.
So, how can I argue that our country has become a paradise for criminals? It seems counterintuitive.
The answer is pretty obvious, actually: we quit putting criminals in jail in 2020 due to misguided “criminal justice reforms” put in place after the George Floyd riots. Pro-criminal DAs and law enforcement officials were put in charge, and in many cases, public policy became anti-carceral.
The scene at the cvs in Columbia Heights, near where I live in Washington DC. Most shelves empty, a few shelves with merchandise behind glass. Talked to a staffer who said people keep stealing stuff and the police aren’t doing anything about it. pic.twitter.com/FoOyw0IfCA
— Timothy B. Lee (@binarybits) November 28, 2023
The results have been horrendous, with murder and other crime rates skyrocketing, and a criminal class has been empowered and developed contempt for the system. The current spike in crime is, I believe, largely driven by people who might have been deterred by threats of incarceration or may never have thought of committing a crime but for the fact that they have been swept along into a rush for easy money or thrills without consequence.
Clarification: 36 individual cases with 46 counts.
5 of the cases involved felony counts.
— Bill Glahn (@billglahn) November 28, 2023
There is another type of criminal, though, and they have also been left out on the streets when they need to be removed from the community, both for the safety of all and their own well-being. For decades, one of the main drivers of crime has been the premature release of severely mentally ill people into the community.
It is an unfortunate fact that jails and prisons have become society’s alternative to mental institutions. Somewhere around 40% of people incarcerated are mentally ill, according to the DOJ.
It is ironic that mental health institutions were closed due to the belief that they were unnecessarily cruel and expensive to operate. The reality is that we allow mentally ill people to rot on the streets or suffer while incarcerated, both of which are cruel and expensive to society.
Hence we get situations like this in Minnesota, which is hardly unique:
The man stabbed to death in Edina the night before Thanksgiving was attempting to flee his assailant after trying to defend himself from the random attack at a bus stop, according to court documents.
Christian H. Lundegaard, 62, of Richfield was fatally wounded shortly before 7 p.m. Wednesday near a cluster of retail outlets in the 6700 block of S. York Avenue.
A 32-year-old man from Minneapolis with a criminal history of largely nuisance crimes was arrested at the scene and remains jailed. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has until noon Tuesday to charge him. The Star Tribune generally does not identify suspects before they are charged.
The man, though, has an identity that is easy to determine. He is mentally deranged and clearly a danger to himself and others. He had even been involuntarily committed twice.
Court records show the suspect has been convicted numerous times for crimes including burglary, theft, disorderly conduct, trespassing and property damage.
Court records also show he was civilly committed twice in recent years for mental illness and chemical dependence, the first time when he overdosed three times within a month in 2020.
A report leading to the first commitment to a treatment center in December 2020 determined the suspect was abusing methamphetamine, opiates and cannabis, and was suffering from schizophrenia and other psychological disorders that left him at risk of harming himself or others.
In other words, he didn’t belong on the streets. Still, our criminal justice (and mental health) systems have become incapable of protecting society due to a false belief that incarcerating people for their own or society’s good is wrong. Criminals and severely deranged people do not belong on the streets, and our unwillingness to treat severely mentally ill people harms both them and society.
This man, who should be institutionalized, will instead wind up in prison for years, probably left untreated.
The victim comes from a family of Star Tribune reporters, so I expect this case will get more than the usual attention as it directly impacts the reporters. I don’t begrudge them this, although all victims should also be the focus of public attention. Instead, they barely merit a mention.
Karen Lundegaard said police told her they don’t believe her brother and the suspect “ever had contact with each other before.”
She said her brother had just shopped at a grocery store and was going to bring non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice for a family Thanksgiving gathering the next day.
Sparkling grape juice. We shouldn’t have to fear for our lives just because we want to bring a treat to Thanksgiving dinner.