The Heritage Foundation

Lecture #495 on Crime

June 16, 1994

June 16, 1994 | Lecture on Crime

The Real War on Crime: States on the Front Lines


(Archived document, may contain errors)

The .Real War on Crime: States on the Front Lines

By The Honorable George Allen Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia

The seat of our federal government, Washington, D.C., has possibly the worst crime rate on earth-cer tainly it is the worst in the nation. But on the other side of the Potomac, in Virginia, we rank 35th in terms of violent crime. While that's not too bad-comparatively speaking-Virginians nevertheless have experienced a dramatic increase in violent crime over the past five years. So that ranking really doesn't mean much, especially when people are more afraid than ever of being killed or robbed, beaten or raped inside or outside of their homes.

Last Year's Campaign Much has been written about last year's g ubernatorial campaign in Virginia and how it focused the attention of the nation on crime. As I campaigned across our state last year, I talked about my philosophy of creative, Jef- fersonian conservatism and what I proposed to do to create jobs, reform w e lfare, reinvigor- ate education, and end wasteful government spending. The people of Virginia were interested in these things. But one concern topped all oth- ers: the rise in violent crime and the paralyzing sense of fear it spreads. The surge in violent crime is more than a "thief in the night" stealing someone's belong- ings. It is stealing something much more precious-our freedom. It is denying our citizens their unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness-their right to work, to l ive, and to raise a family without being terrorized and victimized by violent criminals and lawlessness. What happened last fall in Virginia was quite simple: the people said they would no longer tolerate a system in which violent criminals are apprehende d , convicted, and sen- tenced to long prison terms only to beroutinely released after serving just a fraction of their sentence and allowed back into our neighborhoods and communities to again terror- ize law-abiding citizens. We put forward a comprehensiv e plan to put violent criminals-especially violent re- peat offenders-behind bars and keep them there. And the people resoundingly endorsed it.

Governor Allen spoke at the Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C.. on June 16, 1994. His speech was sponsored by'rhe Heritage Foundation's Governors' Forum. ISSN 0272-1155. 01994 by The Heritage Foundation.

The Allen Administration Now we are moving to deliver the honest change the people of Virginia have de- manded. We have set out aggressively to mak e Virginia a national example of how govern- ment can best fulfill its foremost responsibility-protecting our citizens from violence. We understand that the reasons for crime run deep in our society. The critics of tough law enforcement regularly remind u s of the need to attack these "root causes" of crime. But what the liberals always seem to ignore is that you cannot begin to treat the whole pa- tient until you stop him from bleeding. And Virginia and America today are bleeding. There is only one way to s top it, and that is to take the people who are committing the violence-that small percentage of criminals who commit the vast majority of crime-and get them out of the free society that they have declared war on. Because one thing is cer- tain: The one pl a ce a violent career criminal won't harm more innocent people is in prison. After years of citizen frustration and official neglect, Virginia has moved decisively in the last five months to confront the violent crime menace. Our efforts began in regular se s sion of our General Assembly back in the winter, when we succeeded in getting the Virginia legislature to enact tough law enforcement measures that had been routinely rejected until this year. The anti-crime package submitted by my partner, Attorney Gener a l Jim Gilmore, and me included: # The "three strikes and you're out" law that puts violent three-time losers away for life without parole. 4 Bifurcated trials, so that juries are informed of the prior records of the crimi- nals they are sentencing. * Incr e ased state funding to put more law enforcement officers on the street, especially in our hard-pressed urban areas. # A crackdown on serious violent crime committed by juveniles, including try- ing hardened juvenile offenders as adults. # And measures to c o mbat stalking and other crimes by sex offenders, who are among the most incorrigible of violent criminals. # Passage of this kind of tough legislation was unprecedented in Virginia, where the mindset in recent years has been decidedly more liberal when it comes to law enforcement. But these measures were only a first step forward. Now we are moving to fundamen- tally reform our sentencing system and to fulfill our pledge to the people of Virginia to abolish the lenient, liberal parole system that has been t urning violent offenders back into society after serving only a fraction of their tenns. * Let me share with you some statistics about our current criminal justice sys- tem in Virginia, because I think they will surprise you: * Currently, the average sent ence given for murder is 36 years. But, in reality, that murderer is only spending on average about ten years behind bars. # In fact, the average murderer in Virginia serves about half the minimum fed- eral sentence for the same heinous crime.

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It's l ike that for every major violent crime committed in Virginia: * The average rapist in Virginia-the average-serves only four years in prison. * For armed robbery, a typical 14-year sentence gets you only about four years of actual time. * Generally, when a jury or a judge hands down a sentence to a violent crimi- nal, the average criminal is only going to serve a third of that sentence, and many well serve as little as a sixth. The reason, of course, is a combination of parole and virtually automatic good t ime cred- its. Together, they make a mockery of the sentences that judges and juries impose.

Virginia's Plan To Fight Crime That's why, 13 weeks from now, I will call the members of the Virginia General Assem- My back to Richmond to act on my comprehensive proposal to abolish parole and restruc- ture sentences. To develop the legislation that will be considered at the special session, earlier this year I created the Commission on Parole Abolition and Sentencing Reform. This bipartisan com- mission is made u p of prosecutors, legislators, judges, business people, crime victims, and concerned citizens. And it is being chaired by two outstanding criminal justice profession- als-former U.S. Attorney General William Barr and former U.S. Attorney Richard Cullen. T h e bipartisan nature of the Commission has been a tremendous asset. Implementing truth-in-sentencing and reducing violent crime are not partisan issues. And legislators on both sides of the aisle are finally recognizing that the voters have had enough of s p eeches and sloganeering on crime-they want action and they want results. We have gone about this fundamental reform in a measured and responsible way: The Commission has been meeting several times a month since February, and it has under- taken the most c o mprehensive evaluation of recidivism, sentencing, incapacitation, age factors, punishment, and victimization in Virginia's history. In April, the Commission publicly presented "Proposal X"-the blueprint for our plan to abolish parole and restructure sente n cing. Since then, the Commission has worked with prosecutors, judges, victims advocacy or- ganizations, and law-abiding citizens to refine and improve the proposal. In mid-August, the Cornmission will release its final report. Then we will spend the month before the spe- cial session communicating its recommendations to the people of Virginia and their elected legislators. Our plan is straightforward and will have these key elements: First, violent criminals will serve the time they are given, and sentenci n g guidelines will help ensure they serve significantly longer time than they are serving under the pre- sent system. Second, we are targeting the repeat offenders-the violent career criminals-and we are going to put them away for a longer time than any st ate in the country. The daily newspaper stories about paroled criminals with long rap sheets committing more crimes are going to end in Virginia.

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Third, we are not going to repeat the mistakes that have hampered truth-in-sentencing in other states. We are going to build the prisons necessary to keep this violent repeat criminal element away from our people. But, fourth, we are going to get smart as well as get tough. For the non-violent offenders, we are going to use more economical forms of incarceration and alternatives such as home electronic monitoring, boot camps, and work farms. This will free up prison space and hold down costs so that we can afford to incapacitate the violent and repeat offenders longer. But it will have other benefits, such as providing an environment conducive to rehabili- tation for drug users and other offenders who can be diverted from lives of hopelessness and repeat cr i minal activity. Our plan makes common sense, which may be why it is so radically different from what the Clinton Administration is emphasizing in its war on crime. In Virginia, we have gotten along pretty well through the years by promoting the Jeffer- so n ian vision of individual liberty and personal responsibility. We are renewing our com- mitment to that vision today by taking strong action to restore the liberty of law-abiding citizens and by holding strictly accountable those who abuse their freedoms a nd commit acts of crime and violence against their fellow citizens.

The Federal Government's Role Now, when looking at the federal government's role in fighting violent crime, I think most govemors, state legislators, and local law enforcement officials wo uld agree that it is essential for that role to be limited and clearly defined. Unfortunately, the tendency of the federal government these days is to come in like a bull in a china closet, announcing its arrival in a most dramatic way, but then leaving i t to others to clean up the mess. The reality is that 98 percent of an violent crime is handled at the state level. And suc- cess in the war on crime depends more on bringing common sense to state and local law enforcement than on any large-scale federal i n volvement. Indeed, we could take a giant step toward safer communities in America if the federal government would just take the fiscal handcuffs off state and local govemments, and let us do our jobs-arresting, prosecuting, convictin& and punishing violen t criminals. From my perspective as Govemor, the most promising component of the anti-crime leg- islation being considered in Congress is the money for building state prisons. As I have stated, Virginia will build the prisons necessary to keep violent and r epeat criminals out of action. LikeTexas, we will more than Meely issue bonds to finance the con- struction of some of these prisons. Assistance with prison funding represents a tangible way that the federal government can help state and local law enforce m ent efforts succeed. At the same time, a measure of sanity needs to be restored to the federal courtrooms around the country. Population caps and court-ordered releases of violent criminals are not the way to address the problem of prison crowding where i t exists. Nor should the federal government be constantly making it harder to carry out the death penalty-a form of punishment that has been upheld under the Constitution. Re- peated reviews on petitions for habeas corpus are draining the deterrent value f rom the im- position of death sentences. And creating a whole additional line of attack on death

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sentences, based on the irrelevant characteristic of the defendant's race, is not the way to make our citizens safer. The federal government needs to be f inding ways to make it easier for states to execute vicious murderers-not harder. Finally, I want to emphasize that Virginia is addressing the contributing factors to crime, such as unemployment, the lack of a supportive family structure, drug addiction, a nd the lack of education and career skills. We are committed to welfare reform, improving aca- demic standards, creating jobs and initiatives to empower citizens. And perhaps in some future forum we can talk about those initiatives. But the last thing we n eed from Congress is more expensive social spending designed to fight crime. If social welfare spending were the answer to crime, the street comers of Amer- ica would be far and away the safest in the world. This approach has failed us for the past 30 yea rs, and will continue to fail. We in the states need flexibility, we need to cover the costs of prison construction, and we need the freedom to combat violent crime with the common sense methods our citizens demand.'

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