James Q. Wilson Greatest Strength, Admitting When He Was Wrong—David Frum
This marvelous tribute to James Q. Wilson by Mark Kleiman deserves the widest audience. Kleiman is perhaps the leading liberal-side criminologist of our era:
Recently I was asked to sign on to an amicus brief in a case involving the constitutionality of imposing life imprisonment without parole on those who were legally juveniles at the time of their offending behavior. The argument of the brief was straightforward: legislatures had passed juvenile LWOP under the influence of the idea that the 1980s had seen the rise of a new generation of “juvenile super-predators,” whose propensity to violence put the nation at risk of a bloodbath once they became adults unless they were kept behind bars. In fact, the upsurge in deadly violence by adolescents turned out to be merely a side-effect of the crack markets; instead of soaring, violent crime fell sharply. But the laws passed while the theory was in vogue remain in force.
Jim had been one of the promoters of the “super-predator” theory, though he was not its originator. When I glanced down the list of signatories for the amicus I found, at the bottom, “James Q. Wilson.”
I can only hope that the Court will understand the significance of that name for the status of the theory. Its significance for the moral stature of Jim Wilson is fairly obvious.