The "crime bill," recently endorsed by The Post, is an example of the politicization of criminal justice legislation without dealing with the real issues involved ("Sign the Crime Bill," editorial, Jan. 5). Of the seven provisions in the bill, only one, the Justice Assistance Act, is even remotely related to crime control. The other six, thrown together in great haste and with little or no deliberation, have little to do with curbing crime. Yet it was passed because members wanted a basis for claiming they are tough on crime.
One provision, for example, makes punishable in a federal court, with a 15-year mandatory imprisonment, any third-time robber or burglar who carries a firearm or imitation one. Such expansions of federal jurisdiction should always be undertaken with careful study, since the Constitution vests primary responsibility for criminal law enforcement with the states. Yet only cursory hearings were held, and it was never considered by the Judiciary Committee.
With many states already developing their own mandatory sentencing rules for armed criminals, federal involvement is not likely to produce any additional deterrent. There is also no evaluation of the impact of such prosecutions on the very limited federal justice resources, which traditionally have been devoted to drug offenses and organized and white-collar crime. Even local prosecutors have questioned the need for it; the National Association of District Attorneys has opposed it.
The "drug czar" provision adds another bureaucratic layer to an already confused federal anti-drug effort. The attorney general was just beginning to coordinate the war on drugs. Why create another agency? The food and drug tampering provision establishes a new federal crime, without any evidence that drug contamination cases are tied together in any way as to make local investigation and prosecution inadequate. Neither of these provisions was considered by Judiciary or its subcommittees.
It is hard to see how these provisions, or the one in the bill making assault on a CIA employee a federal crime, can have any real impact on the nation's crime problems. Yet these measures were presented to Congress at the very last minute in the name of fighting crime, amendment was not permitted, and only a yea-or-nay vote was in order.
The Post's endorsement carried the notion that the bill is a major step in curbing crime. That assertion is dubious. Yet in saying so, a false impression is left that supporters of the bill are being tough on crime while opponents are being softies. Ill-considered measures are neither pro- or anti-crime. They may be merely smoke screens--or even make things worse.