Could Webb Panel Reflect Entrenched Political Views?


A national criminal justice commission being pushed by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) may not accomplish much if its membership ends up reflecting “polarized” political opinion on crime policy, says criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie-Mellon University. Speaking this week at the annual forum sponsored by the National Criminal Justice Association, Blumstein cited Webb’s proposal that 8 of the panel’s 11 members be chosen by the majority and minority party leaders in the House and Senate.

Blumstein, who was a staff member of President Lyndon Johnson’s crime commission of the 1960s, said that effort succeeded largely because there was then a “widespread shared set of values” regarding crime and justice. In the intervening years, Democrats and Republicans have pursued such divergent views that a commission composed largely of members with opposing ideologies could become stalemated, Blumstein suggested. Still, he said that reform of U.S. criminal justice policy remains a possibility because government budget woes are forcing choices to be made and because during a time of relatively low crime rates, the public is not demanding “tough” anticrime actions.

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