Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on Crime and Criminal Justice Reform

September 11, 1982

My fellow Americans:

Today I want to talk with you about a subject that's been very much on my mind, even as we've been busy with budgets, interest rates, and legislation. It's a subject I know you've been thinking about too— crime in our society.

Many of you have written to me how afraid you are to walk the streets alone at night. We must make America safe again, especially for women and elderly who face so many moments of fear. You have every right to be concerned. We live in the midst of a crime epidemic that took the lives of more than 22,000 people last year and has touched nearly one-third of American households, costing them about $8.8 billion per year in financial losses.

During the past decade alone, violent crime rose by nearly 60 percent. Study after study shows that most serious crimes are the work of a relatively small group of hardened criminals. Let me give you an example-subway crime in New York City. Transit police there estimate that only 500 habitual criminal offenders are responsible for nearly half the crimes in New York's subways last year.

It's time to get these hardened criminals off the street and into jail. The primary responsibility for dealing with these career criminals must, of course, rest with local and State authorities. But I want you to know that this administration, even as it has been battling our economic problems, is taking important action on the Federal level to fight crime.

As Attorney General Smith pointed out recently, an important part of the problem is that Americans are losing faith in our courts and our entire legal system. Nine out of 10 Americans believe that the courts in their home areas aren't tough enough on criminals. Another 8 out of 10 Americans believe that our criminal justice system does not deter crime. And these figures have gone up drastically in the last 10 or 15 years.

We can and must make improvements in the way our courts deal with crime. The administration-backed omnibus anticrime bill, introduced in the Congress last year and given important leadership by men such as Senator Thurmond, would help to achieve this vital goal by cracking down on hardened criminals through important legal reforms. These include revising the bail system so that dangerous offenders, and especially big-time drug pushers, can be kept off our streets.

We also want to stop abuse of the parole system by making jail sentences more certain. And we've been pushing for stronger criminal forfeiture laws, a powerful weapon that would take a lot of the profit out of drug pushing and other forms of organized crime. We've also asked the Congress for tougher Federal penalties for drug trafficking.

Other important legislation would require a judge to take into account the suffering of the victim when it comes time to sentence a criminal, would make it a Federal crime to kill, kidnap, or assault senior Federal officials, and would extend the ability of the Federal Government to transfer property to the States, free of charge, for use as prison facilities.

These are important and imaginative steps. They can strike a real blow against organized crime and professional criminals. Unfortunately, they have yet to be passed by the Congress.

I urge the Congress to act promptly and favorably on these major initiatives against lawlessness in America. Every moment wasted is a moment lost in the war against crime.

The day after tomorrow, Monday, I will send to the Congress another package of major anticrime measures. These will include suggested revisions of the exclusionary rule. Now, this is the rule that can force a judge to throw out of court on the basis of a small technicality an entire case, no matter how guilty the defendant or how heinous the crime. Our bill would stop this grievous miscarriage of justice by allowing evidence to be introduced where the police officer was acting in good faith. This position has already been taken by some enlightened Federal judges, and I'm asking the Congress to make it the law of the land.

The measures I send to the Congress Monday will also include important revisions of Federal procedure that will cut down on interference by Federal courts in State criminal proceedings and reduce the great number of cases which now overburden our court system and slow the wheels of justice.

And finally, we will press for commonsense revisions of the insanity defense, a defense that has been much misinterpreted and abused.

I wish there was more time to talk with you about these steps and many others we're taking, such as our national strategy for fighting drug abuse. I'll have to save that for some of our future get-togethers. But in the meantime, I hope we can count on your support in our war on crime and our efforts to protect the innocent and put the professional criminals in jail where they belong. Working together we can make America safe again for all our people.

Till next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, Md.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on Crime and Criminal Justice Reform Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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