Tocqueville and America’s Prison System

Today we celebrate the 211th birthday of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose seminal work Democracy in America stands out as one of the first classical liberal defenses of the American experience.

In an op-ed for The Federalist, Craig DeRoche explains how Tocqueville’s writings on the criminal justice system in America are still relevant to today’s controversies. In particular, Tocqueville noted that an increase in criminal convictions does not necessarily indicate an increase in crime. Also, he maintained that judicial discretion can play an important role in reforming overly draconian punishments.

DeRoche argues that these insights are still important in the 21st century. The federal prison population jumped from 25,000 in 1980 to over 194,000 as of July 2016. Mandatory minimums, the federalization of crime, and the removal of parole on the federal level have led to this explosive rise in the prison population.

Criminal justice reform is still a pressing issue for many Americans. In a joint survey of Virginians conducted by the Prison Fellowship and the Charles Koch Institute, “Thirty-six percent of respondents rate [criminal justice reform] as either their top issue or one of the top five issues most important to them,” and a vast majority of Virginians agree that judges should be given more sentencing discretion.

DeRoche concludes by writing that although worrying patterns in criminal justice emerge in our history, we retain American values of fairness and equality before the law. These values can lead us to a better criminal justice system.

A criminal justice system based on these values keeps us from repeating the mistakes of the past and moves us towards a more humane system that also keeps us safe.

More Blog Posts

06-11-2018 03:06pm

North Korea—Rational Actor, or Unbalanced Risk-Taker?

Could history made in the spring continue through the summer? After tense missile tests and discussions of “bloody nose” strikes, the Korean peninsula has been experiencing a period of unprecedented diplomacy.

Read more

Survey on North Korea: Americans, South Koreans Want Diplomacy Rather Than Military Engagement

In a new survey by the Charles Koch Institute and Real Clear Politics, Americans and South Koreans overwhelmingly agreed that they do not want to pursue military action against North Korea, whether or not the June 12 summit is successful in securing denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Read more

05-17-2018 11:05am

An Untapped Talent Pool: SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute’s Survey on Employing Individuals With Criminal Records

To learn more about what drives hiring decisions involving people with a criminal record, the Charles Koch Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management have conducted a groundbreaking survey of employers and the American workforce.

Read more

Sign up for updates

Sign up to receive weekly updates in news and events.