Main|Bio|Books|USA Today columns|Opeds| blog|Media|Other Publications| Speaking|Links

Five flaws in Trump's crime agenda:

Five flaws in Trump's crime agenda:
James Alan Fox 11:34 a.m. ET March 1, 2017

Trump's sly strategy of making America scared again has paid off handsomely.

Were there a Doomsday Clock on criminal justice issues, President Trump and his much-discussed small hands would be pushing the dial,s big hand toward midnight. It is hard to single out just one misguided idea from his array of proposals. So here are five not-so-easy pieces of Trump's flawed agenda on crime control that make a criminologist like me rather uneasy:

Immigration. Will building a wall at our nation's southern border allow us someday to tear down the walls of a few American prisons? The fact is that immigrants pose less of a threat in terms of crime and violence than the average American citizen. (And I'm not even referring to hateful immigrant backlash such as was reflected in last week's 'Get out of my country' shooting in Kansas.) The low crime rates found in heavily immigrant-populated communities don't lie. In his address to Congress, Trump announced the creation of an office for Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE), calling out a few invited guests whose loved ones were killed by illegal immigrants. Not only does VOICE duplicate the mission of the Office for Victims of Crime, but it further singles out and demonizes those coming to America.

Private Prisons. Do we really need to reinvest in private prisons just because the Barack Obama saw it wise to abandon the practice? Not only are these institutional surrogates ineffective in terms of recidivism, but it is just wrong to incentivize private industry to lock up more inmates for longer periods of time (even though Trump did profit politically from his "lock her up" refrain).

Marijuana Law Enforcement. Doubling down on federal enforcement in progressive states that legalized recreational marijuana use isn't just a waste of resources, especially when the government is due to downsize. It seems to be little more than mean-spirited punishment for the 2016 election results. With one exception (Alaska), all the legal pot states went for Clinton (whose husband once famously claimed not to have inhaled).

Violence Against Women. Given the misogynistic history of President "No one respects women more than me" Trump, previously caught on tape bragging about groping women and spying on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms, the next crisis may be the fate of the Violence Against Women Act, which is up for budgetary reauthorization next year. In view of Senator Jeff Session's past unsupportive posture on this legislation, will DOJ's Office on Violence Against Women survive under Attorney General Sessions' watch? What are the prospects for continued funding for shelters and other critical services to assist survivors of domestic and sexual violence?

Guns. Above all, it is hard to ignore and harder to swallow what may come of the unholy alliance of Trump and the NRA. The first shot was the reversal of an Obama-imposed rule disqualifying some individuals receiving federal benefits for mental disability from purchasing firearms. Next to fall, based on Trump's campaign promises, could be "gun free zones" in schools and military bases or limits on right-to-carry provisions, especially when the Supreme Court gets its fifth vote to interpret the Second Amendment literally.

Throughout the campaign and into the early days of his administration, Donald Trump has repeatedly characterized the nation's crime picture in much darker terms than fit reality. By cherry-picking his statistics and narrowly focusing on short-term blips in crime data, he insists that crime levels are out of control when the crime rate is just about as low as it has been for decades. Although homicides have rebounded in a handful of major cities (including Trump's favorite reference to Chicago), the nation's murder rate is half what it was a quarter century ago.

Of course, Trump's sly strategy of making America scared again has paid off handsomely. Not only did it help win him the White house, but fear tends to make for a populace far more willing to surrender fundamental rights for the sake of security (as in the post 9-11 passage of the Patriot Act).

In all likelihood, President Trump's policies, plans and pronouncements may actually make matters worse in terms of lawlessness and disorder. The disturbing irony is that, by virtue of his administration's misguided initiatives, Trump's exaggerated view of America's crime problem may ultimately become prophesy.

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors. He is also co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. Follow him on Twitter @jamesalanfox.

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors. He is co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder.  Follow him on Twitter @jamesalanfox.