Jimmy Carter on Crime

President of the U.S., 1977-1981


We've abandoned rehabilitation in favor of punishment

When I was governor of Georgia, there was an intense competition among my peers in other states to determine which of us could achieve the greatest reduction in our prison populations. We spent a lot of effort on institutional reform, bringing in experts on various means of classifying new inmates to prepare them for basic education, career training, and psychological rehabilitation in prison, all followed by early-release and work-release programs. At that time, in the 1970s, only one in a thousand Americans was in prison.

That policy has been completely abandoned and reversed, as our nation's almost total focus is now on punishment, not rehabilitation. More than 7 Americans out of a thousand are now imprisoned--most of them for nonviolent crimes. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Source: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, p. 79 , Sep 26, 2006

Christians supporting death penalty misinterpret Scriptures

Some devout Christians are among the most fervent advocates of the death penalty, contradicting Jesus Christ and justifying their belief on an erroneous interpretation of Hebrew Scriptures. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," their most likely response, overlooks the fact that this was promulgated by Moses as a limitation--a prohibition against taking both eyes or all of an offender's teeth in retribution. Also, we might remember Jesus' explanation that Moses gave these and some other aspects of the Torah to accommodate "the hardness of heart" of his listeners.

The Bible has numerous examples of mercy as an alternative to the prescribed death sentence, as when God permitted the first known murderer, Cain, to live. In another dramatic instance, Jesus forgave a woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery.

It seems logical that all Christians would follow the example of Jesus Christ. In 1999 in St. Louis, the pope described capital punishment as "cruel and unnecessary."

Source: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, p. 82-83 , Sep 26, 2006

Global standard to ban death penalty, at least for children

During past decades, the international community has struggled to negotiate global standards including: the abolition of land mines and chemical weapons; an end to testing, proliferation, & further deployment of nuclear warheads; constraints on global warming; prohibition of the death penalty, at least for children; and an international criminal court to deter and to punish war crimes and genocide. Those agreements already adopted must be fully implemented, and others should be pursued aggressively.
Source: A Patriot's Handbook, by Caroline Kennedy, p.492-493 , Dec 10, 2002

Jails are filled with poor; focus on white-collar crime

I visited Georgia’s prisons many times, and almost all the inmates I met there were poor. Poor people aren’t the only ones to commit crimes, but they seem to be the only ones who go to prison.

The corporate criminal, the white-collar criminal, too often get off with a slap on the wrist. This only causes contempt for the whole concept of equal justice. White-collar crime costs this country at least $40 billion a year. Yet there hasn’t been a single felony indictment for price-fixing under Mr. Ford.

Source: Campaign Speech in Detroit, in “Good As Its People,” p. 220 , Oct 15, 1976

Crime reflects a sickness in society

Every time a person goes back to prison as a repeat offender, it is a sign that our prisons have failed. I believe we can reduce the percentage of failures and at the same time reduce the amount of crime. Presidential leadership can make a difference.

We can make our existing crime-fighting programs more efficient and effective. We can have a stronger economy, and more jobs for our people, and that will lessen crime.

I think our country’s leaders, beginning with the President, can set an example and set a tone that will increase respect for the law and increase the sense of national unity, and that can lessen crime in America.

Crime reflects sickness in a society. Working together, we can make ours a more healthy society, one in which we need not live our lives in fear. I intend, as President, to provide the leadership that will turn the tide against the scourge of crime.

Source: Campaign Speech, Detroit, in “Good As Its People,” p. 220-1 , Oct 15, 1976

Retain death penalty for a few specific crimes

Carter feels that the death penalty should be retained for a few specific crimes, such as murder committed by a prisoner who is already serving a life sentence. The penalty must be imposed by a jury and reviewed in each case by a 3-judge panel of the State Supreme Court.
Source: Jimmy Who?, by Leslie Wheeler, p.185 , Jan 1, 1976

Conservative on abortion and death penalty

Carter's strategy was based on two things: first, his determination to avoid the mistakes of past Democratic presidential candidates, notably McGovern; second, his reading of the current national mood.

Through his political extremism, McGovern had alienated important elements within the party and within the electorate at large. Carter had no intention of repeating McGovern's errors; instead he decided to follow a middle-of-the-road path like Kennedy. This course included slight deviations to the right and the left when it would help him. His economic policies were moderate to conservative, and he was conservative on such things as abortion and the death penalty. Yet he took liberal stances as far as withdrawing US troops from Korea and decriminalizing marijuana. Taken as a whole, Carter's positions on the issues were designed to appeal to the greatest number of voters possible.

Source: Jimmy Who?, by Leslie Wheeler, p.114 , Jan 1, 1976

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Other past presidents on Crime: Jimmy Carter on other issues:
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Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022