The ability of TV cops and lawyers to mete out justice in a cool 42 minutes notwithstanding, America’s criminal justice system is an unholy mess and a human rights catastrophe. We lead the planet in prison population and incarceration rate.
According to World Population Review, the United States is the only country on earth with more than two million people behind bars. China is second in the counting stat with 1.7 million — but they have a much larger population, so its incarceration rate is pretty reasonable, actually.
Our rate is, hip hip hooray, number one in the world. 629 of every 100,000 Americans is behind bars. We’re the only country over 600. There are only four other countries over 500, and it’s not a group you want to be part of. The four are Rwanda, Turkmenistan, El Salvador, and Cuba.
And yet we often live in fear of crime and violence. Funny, huh?
The system badly needs an overhaul. Progressive prosecutors around the country are trying to nibble away at the worst excesses of the system. They need to be supported and validated by the voters.
Which is why incumbent Sarah Fair George not only has to win the Democratic primary for Chittenden County State’s Attorney, but she has to win by the widest possible margin. Ted Kenney has to lose, and lose badly.
There’s a narrative afoot, based on extremely slender evidence, that progressive policies are a loser with the electorate. There have been a few, a very few, progressive prosecutors who’ve been defeated, but many more have been re-elected. Sarah Fair George can’t be the next Chesa Boudin. We have to help break the narrative that progressive prosecutors are throwing wide the prison doors and giving carte blanche to the criminal class.
Kenney claims to offer a combo platter of progressive policies and safe communities, but he should be judged by the company he keeps. The fact that he’s been endorsed by police unions ought to be a negative for him. Do we really want a prosecutor who’s that chummy with police? Do we want to replace the person who’s written the highest number of Brady letters with a guy who proudly stands with cops and marched in a holiday parade with a disgraced ex-cop from his own town?
No, we do not.
Kenney may be a great guy (in spite of those cold, dead eyes), but he represents a backlash against the beginnings of criminal justice reform. We’re never going to create a system that doesn’t make a mockery of the word “justice” if that kind of backlash is rewarded at the ballot box. Whatever his merits or demerits may be, Kenney represents the backlash.
Oh, speaking of Brady letters, two current state’s attorneys have endorsed Kenney. And wouldn’t you know it, neither Grand Isle’s Doug DiSabito nor Franklin’s James Hughes has written a single Brady letter. I guess the cops are 100% squeaky clean in their jurisdictions.
That includes, by the way, the state trooper who said that the community would have to solve a series of hate crimes on Isle La Motte, when in fact it’s kinda his job to, um, solve crimes.
When progressive prosecutors have lost at the polls, and again it’s only a few, they’ve usually faced very expensive campaigns against them. George, fortunately, isn’t in that position. She’s raised $44,609 to Kenney’s $47,509.
So big money won’t be her downfall. I expect her to win on Tuesday, if only because incumbent state’s attorneys pretty much never lose re-election bids. But I hope she racks up an embarrassingly one-sided win. Nothing against Kenney the person; it’s what he has chosen to represent.
If George loses, it’d be a huge setback for reform efforts in Vermont. If she wins big, her policies will be vindicated and other officeholders might even grow a bit of spine on criminal justice issues. The Legislature has shown little appetite for meaningful change. It’d be nice if they could see that change might actually be popular.