Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill: California homeless crisis has exploded because THIS is missing

Increasing homelessness is transforming the landscape across many of our nation’s largest urban centers. People living on the streets are creating unsanitary conditions, engaging in threatening behavior and generally making our cities less inviting.

And there’s a paradox involved. Many of these cities have invited more homelessness in the first place – all in the name of compassion.

Undoubtedly, compassion is among the noblest of virtues. We could all use more of it. But when applying compassion to public policy, we must prioritize good judgment over good intentions.

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In recent times, this lesson has been lost in places such as San Francisco, which is now increasingly overrun by crime, drugs and homelessness.

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Five years ago, California voters approved Proposition 47 – the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative. This measure grants leniency to offenders whose crimes are deemed “nonviolent” and “nonserious.”

President Ronald Reagan was right when he said: “We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

The initiative requires courts in many cases to hand down only misdemeanor sentences for crimes previously classified as felonies. These include offenses such as fraud, grand theft, shoplifting and the personal use of most illegal drugs.

San Francisco officials, particularly the city’s district attorney, played leading roles in promoting this compassionate vision. They promised a wide array of benefits, such as saving money by sending fewer people to jail.

Since Proposition 47 has gone into effect, however, the city has experienced discouraging trends, including a double-digit-percentage rise in homelessness in the last two years.

Former San Francisco mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg told Fox News: “The intention was to help, of course, but what it really wound up doing is that it made San Francisco more attractive to those who are both homeless and those who are drug addicts to move here.”

Further, one must acknowledge the likelihood that reducing penalties for crimes such as illegal drug use might lead more people to indulge in such activities. This makes it more likely that more people will slide down the slippery path to addiction, homelessness and further crimes.

California is not the only place where going soft on crime has had negative effects on urban centers. Similar trends have occurred elsewhere. These realities beg the question: Can policies that make things intolerably worse for everyone really be called compassionate at all?

The best correctional models are those that hold offenders accountable for their crimes but also help improve their character by addressing social, emotional, spiritual, educational and familial issues through targeted services.

As Indiana’s attorney general, I have championed drug addiction treatment programs in jail. For criminal offenders with addiction problems, imprisonment can be a godsend if it helps put them on the road to recovery. The key is connecting them with quality long-term treatment programs that begin during incarceration and continue well beyond their release.

Besides offering quality substance abuse treatment programs, we need to do a better job providing education, job training, mental health services and other programs to inmates. We also should explore incentives for employers willing to provide a second chance to job applicants with criminal histories.

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There is nothing compassionate, however, about going soft even on so-called “nonserious” and “nonviolent” crime. What about the victims of such crime? Where is the concern for them among those eager to reduce criminal penalties?

In the 1990s, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani implemented the “broken windows theory” to significantly reduce crime in New York City. By aggressively targeting even low-level crimes such as vandalism and public intoxication, Giuliani created a safer environment in which more serious crimes were less likely to occur.

We have gone from the success of Giuliani’s “broken windows” policy to the failure of broken cities that embrace policies that are contributing to their own destruction.

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President Ronald Reagan was right when he said: “We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

In states and cities all across our great nation, officials might be surprised at the extent to which accountability and compassion can go hand in hand.

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