In an unusual move, the American Society of Criminology (ASC), the nation’s leading academic organization in the field, has taken a shot at the administration of President Donald Trump. The ASC’s executive board issued a statement declaring that his administration’s early actions and assertions on criminal justice “demonstrate an incongruity between administrative policy efforts and well-established science about the causes and consequences of crime.”
ASC leaders have made suggestions to previous administrations but not in recent memory has the group issued a broad criticism of a U.S. president. The group’s board said it is “concerned by the actions of the Trump administration in its dissemination of misinformation and development of uninformed policy initiatives. Not only are these initiatives unscientific, they are likely to engender further cynicism about and discontent with the criminal justice system that is harmful to citizens, to members of law enforcement, and to other sources of social control.”
The board is composed of 17 criminologists from the around the U.S. and is headed by ASC President James Lynch of the University of Maryland, a former director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. In its statement the board focused on the areas of immigration, crime trends, the federal government’s role in police reform, and “draconian punishments.”
Although President Trump and his advisers have repeatedly cited examples of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants as “the norm,” the truth is that immigrants do not commit the majority of crime in the nation, the ASC board said. It added that “a century’s worth of findings on immigration and crime in the U.S. show that immigrant concentration decreases crime at the neighborhood and city levels” and that “immigrants as a whole are far less likely to commit crimes than non-immigrants.”
Turning to the administration’s “travel ban,” the ASC leaders said the proposal “is not empirically justified and targets the wrong countries.” The group says “there is no empirical evidence to support” a ban on citizens of six majority-Muslim countries from travel to the U.S. “in the name of preventing terrorist infiltration.” The board said that, “Every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack in the United States since 9/11 was a United States citizen or legal resident, while the three countries from which the deadliest terrorists have come to the U.S. are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt – none of which are included in the travel ban.”
On the issue of crime overall, the president and his aides have focused on an increase in crime in many cities, but the ASC leaders say that the U.S. “is not in the midst of a national crime wave” and that “rates of violent and property crime have been declining in the U.S. for at least a quarter century.” The fact that the nation is “safer now than at least the 1990s has been disregarded by an executive order that would empower the federal government to make fighting a non-existent crime wave a top priority,” the ASC board said.
Regarding police, ASC leaders noted that President Barack Obama convened a task force on policing that proposed “empirically-based solutions aimed at improving policing, rebuilding community trust in the police, and ensuring officer safety and wellness.”
Federal officials also have obtained consent decrees on police reform in “cities that have well-established patterns of police discrimination and abuse,” the board said. It added that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ call for a review of such decrees “can signal both to law enforcement and to citizens that such problems are not systemic but instead simply the result of ‘a few bad apples.’ ”
The criminologists said “research indicates that this is not necessarily the case,” and concluded that, “pulling back on the use of consent decrees could undermine police reform efforts and dial back hard-won progress that many police leaders support.”
The board cautioned the administration against what it called “the resuscitation of Drug War era ‘get tough’ policies and other ‘law and order’ crackdowns that stand to worsen already strained relations between police and communities, especially communities of color, and policies that disparately arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate members of these communities.”
The group said it supports “a justice system that recognizes the adverse impact of draconian punishments and that seeks to prioritize beneficial reentry and social integration program that hold offenders accountable while still allowing them to maintain bonds with their families and communities.”
The ASC leaders declared that, “Crime-control policies should be built on science, and elected officials at all levels of government have a responsibility to endorse public policies that are evidence-based and that promote fairness, equality, and justice.”
They urged the administration to draw on scientific evidence and the expertise of scholars, and said, “We stand ready to assist.”
In March, 25 former ASC presidents sent Trump and Sessions a letter titled, “Keep Science in the Department of Justice.” Co-authors John Laub of the University of Maryland, a former director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), and Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis said they hoped that politics don’t intrude on the science-based approach that NIJ and the Bureau of Justice Statistics have fostered in recent years, the Washington Post reported.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.