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5 Things To Know About Moldova And Transnistria – And Why Russia's War In Ukraine Is Threatening Their Security, Too



A view of Tiraspol, the self-declared capital of Transnistria in April 2022. Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Tensions continue to mount between Russia and Moldova – a small country bordering on southwestern Ukraine that is seeking European Union membership. Moldova is also home to a breakaway region called Transnistria that has strong Russian ties, landing both places in the crosshairs of the war in Ukraine.

Moldova’s government voted on March 2, 2023, to formally condemn Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

This followed Moldovan politicians’ recently expressing concern that Russia is trying to overthrow its Western-leaning government and replace it with a puppet regime picked by the Kremlin.

Russian officials said in February 2023 that Ukraine is planning to invade Moldova – an accusation Moldovan officials struck down as a false-flag operation, meaning a military or political action carried out with the idea of falsely blaming an opponent.

In February 2023, following a meeting with Moldovan leaders in Poland, President Joe Biden reaffirmed strong U.S. support for Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

As a scholar of Eastern European politics, I think that breaking down the complex dynamic among Moldova, Russia and Transnistria is useful in understanding Russia’s military interests beyond Ukraine. Here are five key points to keep in mind.

1. What is Transnistria?

Transnistria – officially called the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic by Moldova – is a narrow strip of land between Moldova and western Ukraine that is home to about 500,000 people. It is an unrecognized breakaway state that left Moldova after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990.

The Transnistrian government has de facto independence, but it is recognized by other countries and the United Nations as part of Moldova.

Although Russia also does not officially recognize Transnistria as an independent country, Transnistria retains its independence today thanks largely to the military support provided by the Russian army, stationed in Transnistrian territory.

Transnistria has close ties to Russia. People living there are largely Russian speakers and the government is run by pro-Russian separatists.

Russia also provides Transnistria with free natural gas and has supported older people in the region with pension supplements.

Approximately 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed in Transnistria.

Only 50 to 100 of those soldiers are from Russia. The rest are local Transnistrians who have been given Russian passports. These soldiers have homes and families in Transnistria.

Moldova does not allow Russian soldiers to fly into the Chisinau International Airport. Since 2015, Ukraine refused them entry through its territory. These transportation restrictions led to Russia’s contracts with locals in Transnistria.

The Transnistrian military itself is relatively small and consists of 4,500 to 7,500 soldiers.

Russian military commander Rustam Minnekaev said on April 22, 2022, that Russia intended to establish a land corridor through southern Ukraine to Transnistria.

2. Why is Russia interested in Transnistria?

Russia has long sought to keep Moldova, formerly part of the Soviet Union, in its political sphere of influence. Moldova is located between the European Union and Ukraine, bordering Romania and southwestern Ukraine. Russian troops stationed in Transnistria give Moscow a way to intimidate Moldova and limit its Western aspirations.

Moldova applied for European Union membership in March 2022. Together with Ukraine, it received candidate status in June 2022.

The presence of Russian troops in Transnistria prevents Moldova from fully controlling its own borders. If activated, combat-ready Russian troops in Transnistria could quickly destabilize the region. Without border and territorial control, Moldova cannot join the EU. This is one of the conditions for EU membership.

People walking across a crosswalk in a nearly empty downtown, with a large Christmas tree and buildings in the background
Downtown Tiraspol, a city in the separatist region of Transnistria in Moldova, in November 2021.
Alexander Hassenstein – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

3. Is Transnistria loyal to Russia?

While free gas has helped ensure Transnistria’s allegiance to Moscow, the European Union has also provided an economic lifeline to Transnistria with new trade deals.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula, in 2014, as well as Russia’s 2014 war with Ukraine over the Donbas region, transformed Transnistria’s economic orientation from Russia to Western Europe.

The fighting in Ukraine prompted Ukraine to reevaluate and tighten its border policy. This resulted in a crackdown on routes in and out of Transnistria that had been used for illegal trafficking of goods for nearly three decades.

The squeezing of contraband routes came at an opportune moment for Transnistria.

Moldova signed a free-trade deal with the European Union in 2014, also allowing trade to be conducted from Transnistria. Transnistria’s trade with Western Europe has since continued to grow, as its trade with Russia declines.

Today, more than 70% of Transnistria’s exports go to Western Europe.

4. How vulnerable is Moldova?

The Ukraine war and the presence of Russian troops in Transnistria have worried Moldovans and some international experts that Moldova could be Putin’s next invasion target.

Unlike Ukraine, Moldova has a weak military, comparable to Transnistria’s forces. Moldova’s active military personnel amounts to 6,000 soldiers, who likely do not have the ability to successfully fend off Russian troops.

Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with a population of about 2.6 million.

Moldova’s energy sector is one of its greatest vulnerabilities. In December 2022, for the first time, Moldova started importing natural gas from international markets, mainly from Romania. Before 2022, Moldova was 100% dependent on Russian gas, which made it difficult for Moldova to escape Moscow’s orbit, despite its pro-European political orientation.

On paper, Transnistria looks like an ideal place for Russia to easily launch attacks on Ukraine or Moldova. However, Transnistria on its own does not have much capability to fight against Ukraine, or the will to fight against Moldova.

Reaching Transnistria, in turn, would require Russia to make massive gains in southern areas of Ukraine, where Ukrainian troops liberated the city of Kherson in November 2022 in one of Ukraine’s most significant gains of the war. The city was a key link in Russia’s effort to control the southern coastline along the Black Sea.

A man holds a sign that says 'who's next? Latvia? Lithuania? Moldova?' He stands on what looks like an old European street with a big building behind him.
An anti-Ukraine war protester stands outside of an European ministers’ security meeting in Vienna on Feb. 23, 2023.
Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images

5. Why are Russia-Moldova tensions again escalating?

Russia’s attention to Moldova and Transnistria could provide a distraction, as Ukraine focuses on the most intense fighting in the eastern part of the country ahead of a planned counteroffensive against Russia this spring.

Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine of storing radioactive material and preparing to build a dirty bomb in pro-Russian Transnistria. In November 2022, the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency found no evidence of this work underway.

This kind of false allegation is similar to what the Kremlin said in 2022, when it justified the Ukraine invasion by saying without evidence that Russians were being targeted in the Donbas – the eastern part of Ukraine – and needed protection. In both cases, Russia asserted falsehoods about Ukraine to justify a potential military attack.

Both Ukraine and Moldova have denied that they are planning any military operation in Transnistria.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on April 27, 2022.

The Conversation

Tatsiana Kulakevich does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Don't Trust The News Media? That's Good




Approach with caution, advises a journalism scholar. simon kr/E+/Getty Images

Everyone seems to hate what they call “the media.”

Attacking journalism – even accurate and verified reporting – provides a quick lift for politicians.

It’s not just Donald Trump. Trump’s rival for the 2024 Republican nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, recently criticized “the Lefty media” for telling “lies” and broadcasting “a hoax” about his policies.

Criticizing the media emerged as an effective bipartisan political tactic in the 1960s. GOP Sen. Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign got the ball rolling by needling the so-called “Eastern liberal press.”

Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s lies about the Vietnam War clashed with accurate reporting, and a “credibility gap” arose – the growing public skepticism about the administration’s truthfulness – to the obvious irritation of the president. Johnson complained CBS News and NBC News were so biased he thought their reporting seemed “controlled by the Vietcong.”

Democrats like Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley, who complained bitterly about news coverage of the 1968 Democratic convention – labeling it “propaganda” – and Federal Communications Commissioner Nicholas Johnson, who published “How to Talk Back to Your Television Set” in 1970, argued that “Eastern,” “commercial” and “corporate” media interests warped or “censored” the news.

In 1969, Republican President Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, launched a public campaign against news corporations that instantly made him a conservative celebrity.

Agnew warned that increased concentration in news media ownership ensured control over public opinion by a “tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one.” Similar criticism emerged from leftists, including MIT linguist Noam Chomsky.

A man with a receding hairline and gray hair talking into a microphone.
Vice President Spiro Agnew said in 1969 that concentrated news media ownership ensured control over public opinion by a ‘tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one.’
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

The bipartisan popularity of news media criticism continued to grow as politicians found attacking the messengers the fastest way to avoid engaging in discussion of unpleasant realities. Turning the spotlight back on the media also helped political figures portray themselves as victims, while focusing partisan anger at specific villains.

Now, only 26% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the news media, according to a poll published in February 2023 by Gallup and the Knight Foundation. Americans across the political spectrum share a growing disdain for journalism – no matter how accurate, verified, professional or ethical.

Yet open debate over journalism ethics signals healthy governance. Such argumentation might amplify polarization, but it also facilitates the exchange of diverse opinions and encourages critical analyses of reality.

Journalistic failures damaged trust

Americans grew to distrust even the best news reporting because their political leadership encouraged it. But multiple failures exposed over the past several decades also further eroded journalistic credibility.

Long before bloggers ended Dan Rather’s CBS News career in 2005, congressional investigations, civil lawsuits and scandals revealing unethical and unprofessional behavior within even the most respected journalism outlets doomed the profession’s public reputation.

In 1971, CBS News aired “The Selling of the Pentagon,” an investigation that revealed the government spent tax dollars to produce pro-military domestic propaganda during the Vietnam War.

The program infuriated U.S. Rep. Harley Staggers, who accused CBS of using “the nation’s airwaves … to deliberately deceive the public.”

Staggers launched an investigation and subpoenaed CBS News’ unpublished, confidential materials. CBS News President Frank Stanton defied the subpoena and was eventually vindicated by a vote of Congress. But Staggers, a West Virginia Democrat, publicly portrayed CBS News as biased by insinuating the network had much to hide. Many Americans agreed with him.

“The Selling of the Pentagon” was the first of many investigations and lawsuits that damaged the credibility of journalism by exposing – or threatening to expose – the messy process of assembling news. As with the recent embarrassing revelations about Fox News exposed by the Dominion lawsuit, whenever the public gets access to the backstage behavior, private opinions and hypocritical actions of professional journalists, reputations will suffer.

But even the remarkable Fox News revelations shouldn’t be considered unique.

Repeated lying

Numerous respected news organizations have been caught lying to their audiences. Though such episodes are rare, they can be enormously damaging.

In 1993, General Motors sued NBC News, accusing the network of deceiving the public by secretly attaching explosives to General Motors trucks, and then blowing them up to exaggerate a danger.

NBC News admitted it, settled the lawsuit and news division President Michael Gartner resigned. The case, concluded The Washington Post’s media critic, “will surely be remembered as one of the most embarrassing episodes in modern television history.”

Additional examples abound. Intentional deception – knowingly lying by consciously publishing or broadcasting fiction as fact – occurs often enough in professional journalism to cyclically embarrass the industry.

A screenshot of a clipping from the New York Times, July 2, 1971, about a contempt vote against CBS and its top executive.
A front page story in The New York Times on July 2, 1971, with details about the conflict in Congress over the CBS documentary ‘The Selling of the Pentagon.’
New York Times archive

In cases such as Janet Cooke and The Washington Post, Stephen Glass and the New Republic, Jayson Blair and Michael Finkel of The New York Times, and Ruth Shalit Barrett and The Atlantic, the publication of actual fabrications was exposed.

These episodes of reportorial fraudulence were not simply errors caused by sloppy fact-checking or journalists being deceived by lying sources. In each case, journalists lied to improve their careers while trying to help their employers attract larger audiences with sensational stories.

This self-inflicted damage to journalism is every bit equal to the attacks launched by politicians.

Such malfeasance undermines confidence in the news media’s ability to fulfill its constitutionally protected responsibilities. If few Americans are willing to believe even the most verified and factual reporting, then the ideal of debate grounded in shared facts may become anachronistic. It may already be.

Media criticism as democratic participation

The pervasive amount of news media criticism in the U.S. has intensified the erosion of trust in American journalism.

But such discussion can be seen as a sign of democratic health.

“Everyone in a democracy is a certified media critic, which is as it should be,” media sociologist Michael Schudson once wrote. Imagine how intimidated citizens would respond to pollsters in Russia, China or North Korea if asked whether they trusted their media. To question official media “truth” in these nations is to risk incarceration or worse.

Just look at Russia. As Putin’s regime censored independent media and pumped out propaganda, the nation’s least skeptical citizens became the war’s foremost supporters.

As a media scholar and former journalist, I believe more reporting on the media, and criticism of journalism, is always better than less.

Even that Gallup-Knight Foundation report chronicling lost trust in the media concluded that “distrust of information or [media] institutions is not necessarily bad,” and that “some skepticism may be beneficial in today’s media environment.”

People choose the media they trust and criticize the media they consider less credible. Intentional deception scandals have been exposed at outlets as different as The New York Times, Fox News and NBC News. Just as the effort to demean the media has long been bipartisan, revelations of malfeasance have historically plagued media across the political spectrum. Nobody can yet know the long-term effect the Dominion lawsuit will have on the credibility of Fox News specifically, but media scholars know the scandal will justifiably further erode the public’s trust in the media.

An enduring democracy will encourage rather than discourage media criticism. Attacks by politicians and exposure of unethical acts clearly lower public trust in journalism. But measured skepticism can be healthy and media criticism comprises an essential component of media literacy – and a vibrant democracy.

The Conversation

Michael J. Socolow does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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I Went To CPAC To Take MAGA Supporters' Pulse – China And Transgender People Are Among The Top 'demons' They Say Are Ruining The Country




Supporters listen to former President Donald Trump at the CPAC meeting in Maryland in March 2023. Alex Wong/Getty Images

In early March 2023, I mixed with the Make America Great Again faithful at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference – a popular meeting, often known as CPAC, for conservative activists and political figures.

I walked, ate and sat with the attendees at the National Harbor in Maryland over the course of four days. Many of them were dressed in MAGA and pro-Trump gear such as sequined hats and shirts that said things like “Trump won” the 2020 election. A few had tattoos of Trump’s face.

Media reports show that CPAC, which did not publicize the number of attendees, had lower-than-normal attendance and fewer high-profile sponsors.

Approximately 62% of CPAC attendees participating in a straw poll said they support Donald Trump for president in 2024.

Understanding CPAC

Many commentators and others have labeled CPAC extremist. The program was loaded with sometimes incendiary figures reviled by the left, including Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, as well as former Trump political advisers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.

I am a scholar of extremism in the United States and went to CPAC for two reasons. First, I wanted to hear firsthand what conservatives, and especially Trump followers, said. At a time of high political polarization, it is important to understand different positions.

Second, almost half of people in the U.S. fear political violence and civil war. I wanted to take the pulse of the conservative right and assess points of division ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

The conference’s theme was “Protecting America Now.” Who and what were the perceived threats? And, amid the polarization, was there any common ground shared by conservatives and liberals?

I discovered five frequent demons at the conference: there were China’s Communist Party and border criminals – including Mexican drug cartels and undocumented immigrants. “Radical left Marxists” and the ideologies of “wokism” and “transgenderism” were also frequent targets.

While I also found a few glimmers of hope for political common ground between the left and right, it was apparent that Trumpism – and the election denial, misinformation and scapegoating that come with it – is stronger than some think and, I believe, remains a threat to U.S. democracy.

A man in a wheelchair goes past a booth in a convention room that says 'Believe in America, not the media.'
CPAC attendees visit booths promoting political groups and products for sale.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


China was one of the biggest common enemies identified at the conference. Just days after senior U.S. intelligence officials said that China is the United States’ biggest national security threat, speaker after speaker at CPAC harped on this theme.

The first day included panels titled “Caging the Red Dragon” and “No Chinese Balloons Above Tennessee.”

Such language plays to the growing number of Americans who view China as the country’s biggest enemy.

Border criminals

The focus on China connected to another target at the conference – Mexican cartels that engage in human and drug trafficking. This includes groups that bring fentanyl – a drug that is Chinese-manufactured or made from Chinese-produced chemicals – into the U.S.

Many speakers accurately noted the staggering number of fentanyl deaths in the U.S., including over 100,000 overdose deaths in 2021. But they did so in often apocalyptic terms.

They were quick to blame the Biden administration, ignoring that these issues have a long history and also existed under former President Donald Trump.

The crisis, CPAC speakers said, includes large numbers of undocumented migrants crossing the border – who they sometimes derogatorily referred to as “illegal aliens.” Oddly, those crossing the border were depicted both as victims of the violent cartels and as criminal and economic threats to Americans.

American Marxism

CPAC speakers and attendees spotlighted what they saw as equally dire demons lurking within the country.

“Radical leftist Marxists” – a stand-in for all Democrats – stood at the top of the list. These leftist radicals, CPAC speakers suggested, were intent on turning the U.S. into a socialist country like China in which the state controlled bodies and minds and quashed individual rights and freedoms.

The Democratic Party “hates this country,” Fox TV personality Mark Levin claimed on the CPAC stage.

“This American Marxist movement,” he continued, his voice raising, “took off big time during COVID” and then “rode the wave of Black Lives Matter, Antifa and the cop-hating, to advance this racist, Marxist, bigoted, socialist, anti-American agenda – which is everything today the Democrat Party today stands for!”

The crowd responded with loud applause and cheers – ignoring that these often repeated claims have little basis in reality.


This anti-American agenda, Levin and other CPAC speakers argued, was illustrated by “wokism.”

Being woke generally means understanding societal issues like racial and social justice. But CPAC speakers, who didn’t define the term, suggested that these efforts were really part of a “radical leftist” plot to control what people think and say – an idea that the right has derided as “political correctness” in the past.


There was also an emphasis on gender and the perceived threat of transgender people. Some of the anti-transgender sentiment was casual, such as when Rep. Gaetz quipped, “We had to spend four, five days asking the Chinese spy balloon what its pronouns were before we were willing to shoot it down.”

Perhaps the most strident remarks were made by conservative political commentator Michael Knowles, who stated, “for the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.”

Despite his inflammatory language and use of “transgenderism,” a derogatory term suggesting that transgender people have “a condition,” Knowles received loud applause.

So, too, did other speakers who disparaged transgender identity – an issue that has become a culture wars flashpoint.

The Anti-Defamation League, among other human rights groups, has shown that the idea transgender people are predatory “groomers” or pedophiles is false and is being circulated by some Republicans only for political gain.

In March 2023, Tennessee became the first state to pass a law that restricts drag performances in the presence of children – a move that likely violates the First Amendment’s free speech protection and, in my view, is based on fear, not facts. Other Republican-led states are considering anti-drag legislation.

A large crowd of people look toward a screen that shows a white man in a dark suit. Next to the screen is a large American flag
Guests listen to former President Donald Trump address the Conservative Political Action Conference as the headline speaker.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The warrior

By the time Trump took the stage, the CPAC crowd was primed. People danced and waved “TRUMP WAS RIGHT!” placards.

Trump offered an apocalyptic vision of the country’s future.

“Sinister forces” are seeking to turn the U.S. into a “lawless open-borders, crime-ridden, filthy, communist nightmare,” Trump said.

Trump promised to fight back against these forces. “I am your warrior,” he told the adoring crowd. “I am your justice.”

The rocky ride ahead

I went to CPAC to find areas where the left and right might find common ground. Both sides worry about issues like inflation, fentanyl and crime. And, even as they may disagree on the path to get there, both want a better future for the country.

But politics is another demon lurking in the room. Most of the speakers at CPAC seemed to be there to rile up the crowd, which included many activists.

This was especially true of Trump, whose divisiveness was on clear display at CPAC.

All of this suggests the U.S. faces a rocky ride to the upcoming 2024 election.

The Conversation

Alexander Hinton receives funding from The Center for Politics and Race in America at Rutgers University-Newark.

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Biggest Racial Gap In Prison Is Among Violent Offenders – Focusing On Intervention Instead Of Incarceration Could Change The Numbers




Black men disproportionately make up the US prison population. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Racial disparities in state imprisonment rates dropped significantly during the first two decades of the 21st century.

That’s one of the main findings from a report published by one of us in late 2022, along with Georgia State University colleague William Sabol, for the Council on Criminal Justice, nonpartisan think tank.

But that headline decline tells only half the story. The narrowing is significant – down some 40% in the 20 years to 2020 – but Black adults were still being imprisoned at 4.9 times the rate of white adults in 2020, compared with 8.2 times at the turn of the century.

Of equal concern to us, as Black Americans and scholars of criminal justice, is where the largest gaps exist in imprisonment rates once you break down the data. With a steep decline in the drug imprisonment gap between Black and white Americans – from 15 to 1 in 2000 to just under 4 to 1 in 2019 – the biggest racial disparity now exists among people incarcerated for violent felony offenses. These violent offenses cover a range of criminal behavior from rape to robbery to murder.

The Council on Criminal Justice report shows that states incarcerated Black adults for violent offenses at a rate over six times that of white adults by 2019, the most recent year for which offense-specific data is available.

Both victims and offenders

It has long been accepted that the racial disparity in incarceration rates for drug offenses is the result of bias in the system. Black people do not use or traffic drugs more than their white counterparts. Rather, Black communities have borne the brunt of drug imprisonment because of discriminatory enforcement.

But this does not seem to be the case when it comes to felony violence. There is evidence to suggest that the relatively higher Black incarceration rates for violent crimes, especially homicides, are due to an overrepresentation of violent offenders and victims in Black communities.

The homicide rate for Black Americans (29.3 per 100,000) was about seven and a half times higher than the white homicide rate (3.9 per 100,000) in 2020. Black Americans were also about twice as likely to report receiving medical treatment for physical injuries sustained from an assault.

Most acts of violence involve a victim and offender of the same race. According to the most recent data available, despite accounting for roughly 14% of the U.S. population, Black Americans comprise over half of the known homicide offenders and more than a third of rape, robbery and aggravated assault offenders identified by victims.

Structural racism and violent crime

The evidence suggests that Black Americans both commit and suffer the bulk of serious violent crimes.

Of course, this should not be misconstrued as suggesting Black people are inherently more violent. Rather, it demonstrates the structural and economic barriers that Black Americans continue to face.

Striking racial gaps, rooted in a legacy of structural racism, have left generations of Black people with disproportionately less wealth and education, lower access to health care, less stable housing and differential exposure to environmental harms like air pollution. Such factors contribute to concentrated poverty, racially segregated neighborhoods and other community conditions tied to violent offending.

The recent rise in violent crime has affected all demographics, but especially Black Americans. Data from the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 saw an average of 10 more Black lives lost each day to homicide than the year before. During this same period, the average number of white homicide victims increased by nearly three per day.

This increase was not evenly distributed across Black communities. Most Black homicide victims were young males. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Black men ages 15 to 34 represented nearly a third of all U.S. homicide deaths in 2021 and over a quarter since 2000.

‘Throwing away the key’ hasn’t worked

Mass incarceration and the tough-on-crime policies of the past have been unable to fix the problem.

Those who victimize others should undoubtedly be held accountable, but violent offenders already serve substantial prison terms in the U.S. A Bureau of Justice Statistics study of 24 state prison systems reported that convicted murderers released in 2008 had spent an average of almost 18 years in prison. Nearly all violent offenders (96%) served 10 to 20 years of their full sentences. In comparison with other countries, the U.S. tends to lock up offenders for more extended periods.

We believe simply incarcerating more people for longer periods is not a sustainable or efficient public safety strategy. Lengthy prison sentences temporarily stop criminals from victimizing communities while they are under confinement. However, no clear-cut evidence exists that locking up convicted offenders and “throwing away the key” provides lasting public safety benefits.

Indeed, research suggests harsher sentences offer diminishing public safety returns for two main reasons. First, people tend to “age out” of crime, in that most criminals stop lawbreaking activities by middle age. Secondly, a relatively small share of individuals commit a disproportionate amount of crime in their communities.

The effects of stiffer sentences are also weakened by the “replacement effect” common in criminal activities, by which incarcerating offenders leads to other offenders taking their place on the streets – this is true especially when it comes to violent crime involving gangs and drug dealers.

Incarceration leads to community harm

Moreover, a reliance on mass incarceration as a solution to crime has perpetuated the historical disadvantages faced by Black Americans.

Studies have consistently revealed a host of collateral damages linked to incarceration that disproportionately affects Black families. The imprisonment of a family member can cause households significant emotional and psychological distress, financial hardship from the loss of income and residential instability.

High levels of imprisonment in the community also undermine employment and community relationships necessary to reduce the likelihood of criminal activity. Reflecting both the causes and consequences of disproportionate incarceration, neighborhoods with the highest rates of incarcerated residents tend to be characterized by high rates of poverty and racial segregation.

As such, by simply implementing stricter laws and practices, legislative leadership risks further contributing to crime and social inequities.

A new, targeted approach?

So if lengthy incarceration isn’t the answer, what is? All indications suggest that improving public safety requires intervening in the lives of, in particular, young Black men. Research shows that most young Black men involved in violent crime are traumatized from being victimized or afraid of being victimized themselves. They turn to violence or carry weapons for survival, largely because of a lack of faith in the justice system.

This all points to the need for a targeted and holistic approach to reducing violent crime, which combines policing strategies focused on the offenders and places most susceptible to serious violence, with initiatives addressing the root causes of both individual and community violence.

Solving core problems through improved access to adequate education, health care, housing, services targeting at-risk youth and habitual offenders, and job training and placement is challenging but, we believe, necessary to keep Americans safer.

Research shows that interventions targeting risk factors, such as unemployment, substance abuse and housing problems, can significantly improve reentry and rehabilitation outcomes, even among high-risk individuals.

For example, in Oakland, California, community partners have worked with law enforcement to combine focused policing efforts with broad-ranging outreach and social supports to enhance trust in the system. From 2012 to 2018, the city achieved a nearly 50% reduction in shootings and homicides. However, as seen with other interventions across the U.S., much of Oakland’s progress was lost largely because the pandemic lockdowns and social distancing restrictions starting in 2020 upended the existing network of relationships and services.

Community partnership-oriented interventions able to withstand the toll of the pandemic continued to see reductions in violence and recidivism. The READI violence intervention program in Chicago, for instance, provides those most affected by gun violence with subsidized employment alongside cognitive behavioral therapy and personal development services. Early reports show an encouraging decline in arrests and gun assaults among READI Chicago participants.

In our view, these efforts suggest that while there will, of course, remain a need for consequences for violent offending, the focus needs to be more on intervention rather than incarceration.

The Conversation

Thaddeus L. Johnson is affiliated with the Council on Criminal Justice.

Natasha N. Johnson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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