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Want to keep violent criminals off the street — adding more solicitors isn't the answer

Root Causes

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Over the years, I've had a love-hate relationship with Brian Hicks of The Post and Courier. While I've never met him, I read his columns fairly regularly, and he's always managed to swing back and forth between being brilliant and being merely OK. His recent column on the dearth of prosecutors in South Carolina and the resultant wave of repeat offenders is an example of the merely OK end of the spectrum.

In Mr. Hicks' latest column, he offers up yet another tale of a violent repeat offender in South Carolina who is out on bail and commits another violent crime. The problem, to Hicks and most anyone else you ask these days, is that there are not enough solicitors in South Carolina to deal with all the cases before the court, and, as a result, our judges respond by granting bails to many of the worst offenders, which, in turn, allows them to commit more crimes. The answer, of course, is simple: We need more prosecutors (and more public defenders, and more judges), all in an effort to deal with the "114,000 new felony arrests made each year," Hicks writes.

Under these circumstances, Mr. Hicks isn't wrong to suggest we have too few solicitors in South Carolina, but by doing so he fails to address a far greater problem, namely, what can we do as a society to minimize the number of people who fall into the cycle of violence in the first place.

Unfortunately, this is America, and we cannot bear to ask ourselves if maybe, just maybe, it's not that these people are failing society, but quite possibly that society is failing them. After all, the vast majority of us are fairly happy, right? Never mind the fact that around 16 percent of the population and almost 20 percent of our children live in poverty (and that is by the ridiculously low standards of the federal government). Never mind the fact that we let our schools fail and, as a result, we allow some children to simply become fodder for an overgrown criminal justice system.

Since we can't deal with talking about how badly our culture and our society are broken, we instead look for easy answers to secondary problems. An overabundance of criminals is a secondary problem of a broken society. What do you do with criminals, the people who break from polite society and lash out against others or against property? Well, you lock them up, of course. That's really the only rational thing to do.

So the easy answers are out there, and they're comforting to us because they are easy and they don't require a whole lot of thought about what we're doing wrong as a nation. If you have a crime problem, you just need more police, and they need more data with which to track the bad guys. And you need more solicitors to prosecute them in court, and you need more judges to hear the cases. And, of course, you need bigger and better prisons, managed, quite certainly, by the ever-growing number of private prison companies in America. Of course, these easy answers still leave behind the larger problem: crime is still being committed — and some of it is violent.

But what are the real answers? If we believe the current hype of doctors and crypto-technologists, then the answers we need are already being put into play. If an obstetrician can look in your womb and sample an unborn child's DNA and tell if she is going to be born with a crippling physical disability, can't we also figure out how to tell who among the unborn is going to become the next Charles Manson?

Or perhaps we need better mental health testing, of the sort that is (sometimes) championed around the time of a mass shooting. Here in Charleston, last year's attempted shooting at Ashley Hall led to a bill to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Current legislation is looking at keeping guns out of the hands of those convicted of domestic violence. So why can't we make a logical leap and guess at who may or may not become a violent criminal?

Liberals and conservatives alike might balk at criminalizing behavior before an actual crime is committed, and rightfully so. Yet, how many conservatives have boldly defended stop-and-frisk laws in American cities (and so-called no-knock warrants before that)? And how many liberals continue defending the rights of parents to abort children with disabilities in utero?

We aren't merely failing to figure out how to deal with the violent criminals we have; we are absolutely insuring that there will always be more violent criminals than the small percentage of people who are genetically predisposed to violence. Instead of focusing on easier ways to incarcerate more of our population, we need to focus on creating alternatives to keep people away from crime in the first place.

Like so many other problems our society faces, crime is just one more where dealing with the root causes is never even mentioned, and the problems identified and the solutions offered aren't enough. So instead of figuring out how to handle 114,000 new felony arrests each year, let's work on lowering the number of felony arrests.

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