Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Koch counsel lays out conservative agenda on justice reform

A Marshall Project interview with Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden lays out a conservative agenda for criminal justice reform, summarized thusly:
The fundamental problem with our current criminal justice system is that it is a two-tier system. The wealthy and connected experience dramatically better treatment than the poor, and guilt and innocence are often irrelevant. That is immoral, constitutionally dubious, and fiscally ruinous. We spend more than $250 billion per year on our entire criminal justice system, including over $80 billion a year on incarceration, which is three to four times more than we spend per capita on public primary and secondary education.

As Harvard Professor Bruce Western has noted, the current system creates barriers to opportunity for the least advantaged and has produced a “poverty trap” — a cycle of poverty, despair, and incarceration “at the very bottom of American society.” One extremely troubling example of this is that experts and commentators, including Judge Alex Kozinski and Judge Jed Rakoff, have observed that innocent people now plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. None us can or should be comfortable with that.

Another fundamental problem is that since the start of the War on Drugs, there has been a dramatic shift in the balance of power in our system away from judges to prosecutors. For instance, we aren’t sure how many federal criminal laws there are, but estimates are that there are somewhere between 4,500 and 6,000. Given this explosion in the number of statutory crimes, the advent of mandatory minimum sentences, and the prosecutor’s control of the grand jury process, prosecutors now have too much power and have, in many instances, become prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.

We also need to fix our indigent defense programs so that the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright and the 6th Amendment right to counsel are a reality for all defendants whenever they are charged with a crime that could lead to loss of liberty, including misdemeanors. In addition, we need to allow judges to make determinations based on the facts of the crime and the individual before them to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. We should reject the labels “soft on crime” and “tough on crime,” and instead be smart on crime and soft on taxpayers. For those who are incarcerated, especially non-violent offenders, the prison experience should be about reform, rehabilitation, and redemption rather than revenge, reprisal, and retribution.

And finally, we need to reform how we allow individuals to reenter society after serving their sentences. Currently, there are tens of thousands of government-imposed restrictions on ex-offenders that limit their ability to get a meaningful job, housing, student or business loans, credit cards, and vote. We make it difficult for people to turn their lives around once they have a brush with the law. This creates hardships for the ex-offenders and their families, and leads to the increased human and societal costs of recidivism and reincarceration.
Quite a few Texas conservatives have already been moving in this direction. Grits' hope is that Koch's involvement will help open up a safe political space for more of their right-wing allies to join them.


Anonymous said...

This is a conservative approach? I feel like I've woke up in the Twilight Zone. In the grand scheme of the overall budget, state or federal, funding for the criminal justice system already comprises a much smaller percentage of public spending than education and healthcare. And these idiots want to cut it more? And let a bunch of crackheads and perverts back out unsupervised on society? I guess if you live in gated communities and feel a little guilty about your success, maybe it is cathartic to feel compassionate toward criminals you're never likely to encounter. But as for the rest of us, we know that crime really does happen. Frequently. And we don't want to be victims. Sure, lots of poor people commit the vast majority of crimes. Guess what, they're guilty. And just because they're poor doesn't mean they don't deserve to be punished. If you want to help relieve poverty, fine. But don't bury your head in the sand and pretend crime isn't still a huge problem in this society.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You're confusing conservatism with totalitarianism (a common error). Conservatism is suspicious of Big Government and expansive state power at the expense of the individual. And it rejects the idea that only the state can keep us safe.

Crime is at historic lows and, under the status quo, Texas already releases more than 70,000 people per year and brings in a similar number. A quarter century ago, the entire prison system had fewer than 50,000 people in it. This is the biggest of Big Government programs and it's about time that movement conservatives recognized fear-based incarceration fetishists promoting a victimocracy are anathema to their small-government worldview.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Grits!

Anonymous said...

totalitarianism:Tyler, Texas

Anonymous said...

"For those who are incarcerated, especially non-violent offenders, the prison experience should be about reform, rehabilitation, and redemption rather than revenge, reprisal, and retribution."

Yep, Instead, the non-violent offenders (aka: short-timers) are thrown in to the same Units housing violent offenders (aka: murders, rapists and evil POS wearing grey uniforms) where they either learn how to kill in order to survive or live each day planning revenge. Those that don't defend themselves are either killed, raped, or tricked into owing the one that defended them. Can you imagine what happens to the ones that constantly talk about getting out in 90 days by those doing 60 yrs. or life? It's a vicious cycle purposely allowed to occur. The non-violent enter as a pacifist and come out hardened to the core.

TDCJ could house non-violent offenders on non-violent

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