Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tough Talk Can Be a Crime

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tough Talk Can Be a Crime

Article excerpt

In Washington and in Jefferson City, lawmakers are trying to craft that most difficult of legislative packages - a crime bill that feeds the rhetorical needs of politicians to talk tough and the practical needs of public officials to have real tools to combat crime. As the proposals head to the White House and Gov. Mel Carnahan, legislators should fight the urge to stage a show of force and instead enact what will truly help create a safer environment.

On the federal level, the House passed a $28 billion catchall crime package on Thursday. Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of St. Louis County has hailed it as a constructive mixture of punishment and prevention, and some of its elements make more sense than those in the $22 billion bill passed last fall by the Senate. But too many of the House provisions still appeal to the emotions rather than establish crime-prevention techniques that may be less showy but more effective.

Expansion of the federal death penalty has always been a favorite among members of Congress who want to show they are serious about fighting crime. But the House vote to extend federal executions to nearly 70 crimes from the current two takes a bad idea to a ludicrous extreme. At least the House included the Racial Justice Act, which would allow anyone sentenced to death to introduce statistical evidence that alleges racial discrimination in the imposition of the death penalty. But the Senate has balked at such action in the past, and if its inclusion is what the House must pay to put more federal prisoners on death row, the price may be too high.

The House also approved money for 50,000 new police officers nationwide, compared with 100,000 authorized by the Senate. But such funds would be spread so thin it would have little practical effect; when the budget is cut in Washington, cities that are relying on that money to pay officers will suffer.

Further, the House wants to deny weight training and education grants to prisoners - depriving them of a much-needed outlet to burn off physical energy and the key to a more productive life after they are released. …

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