Michael Shellenberger and Seneca Scott vs. Kmele Foster and Lara Bazelon. You won’t want to miss the second installment of the America Debates from The Free Press.
(Jason Henry for The Free Press)

WATCH: A Free Press Debate on Crime and Punishment

Michael Shellenberger and Seneca Scott vs. Kmele Foster and Lara Bazelon. You won’t want to miss this.

By The Free Press

June 25, 2024

The United States has a higher incarceration rate than anywhere else in the world. We are a country that locks up nearly two million people at a cost of some $80 billion a year.

Those basic facts, combined with a sense of our system’s injustices—there is still an 18-to-1 disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine, disproportionately impacting poorer and minority communities, for example—have alarmed many Americans, who, over the past decade, have embraced criminal justice reform. And 2020 was a watershed moment for the criminal-justice reform movement. Around the country, there were calls to “defund the police” and divert money to programs meant to address the root causes of crime. Progressive prosecutors in many blue cities pledged to reduce sentences, stop prosecuting lower-level offenses, and address police misconduct.

A lot has changed in the past four years. 

As we head into November’s election, voters consistently say that crime is a top issue. Sixty-three percent of Americans said that crime was “extremely or very serious” in the country, according to the annual Gallup survey released in November. And many people believe that the kind of initiatives pushed by advocates of criminal justice reform are to blame.

Nowhere is that debate more passionate than in San Francisco, a city where everything from shampoo to gum is under lock and key at Walgreens and signs hang in parked cars that read: “Please do not break into this car. No valuables here.” Fully fifty percent of stores in the city’s downtown have shuttered because of theft. 

That’s why we convened Michael Shellenberger, Seneca Scott, Kmele Foster, and Lara Bazelon for a debate in front of a sold-out house. 

It was an incredible evening and we loved getting a chance to meet so many of you. We were especially thrilled to see so many people with skin in the game, including the head of San Francisco’s Police Officers Association. “I’m a black woman and a lesbian who happens to be the president of this union,” Lieutenant Tracy McCray told The Free Press. “We’ve been right in the eye of the storm of reforms like Prop 47 and I thought it was really important to come and hear what both sides have to say.”

This debate was the second installment of our America Debates series, which we are proud to present in partnership with FIRE, the nation’s leading defender of free speech. 

Please save the date for our next live debate: September 10 in Washington, D.C. As always, paying subscribers will get early access to buy tickets. 

And without further ado. . . here’s our San Francisco debate:

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