The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has issued a report that informed Congress that it has created 439 new criminal offenses between 2008 and 2013. This staggering figure gives a glimpse into the rapid criminalization of America where there are, by some estimates, around 4,500 federal offenses alone and tens of thousands of more on the state and federal levels. Politicians continue to add crimes, which tend to be popular with voters and do not require immediate budget demands (though they add huge costs not just in enforcement but the costs of citizens themselves in being pulled into the criminal justice system).
I have long been a critic of the criminalization of America where millions of citizens are finding themselves labeled as felons for acts that used to be treated as strictly civil matters. The trend toward criminalization feeds itself as politicians insist that their pet peeve (from feeding pigeons to missing parent-teacher meetings) are no less important than other crimes. The result is that everything is being translated into a criminal offense.
The June report from the CRS to the House Over-Criminalization Task Force shows how Congress continues to yield to impulse buy crimes — reflexively adding new crimes to respond to headlines or constituent outrage. Nothing says commitment more than a crime in politics.
Little thought is given to how a society changes when so many people are given criminal records and the character of interactions with the government shifts toward to the criminal justice system.