Tag Archives: #JusticeReform

Conservatives of Georgia, Are You Listening?

Whether it’s while running for city council or for Congress, activists rallying at a conference, or just every day folks trying to swing a moderate their way, Republicans can’t stop talking about serving justice. We’re ‘tough on crime!’ and we tout how many awful people we ‘put away’ in a certain period of time. Constituencies expect it and it seems to be low-hanging fruit for many hard (R’s)…but what they don’t know is they are all wrong.

The justice system has long been on the decline and in an era where Americans are becoming less and less trustworthy of the process from arrest to probation, Republicans shouldn’t be showcasing what they believe to be effectiveness in the legal system.

Mandatory minimum sentencing practices came about in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in response to criticism that judges had too much power. Additionally, it was part of a crackdown on certain offenses to serve as a deterrent – one that has since be deemed virtually ineffective.

We made some mistakes. It’s okay to admit that. It’s even better to admit that there have been a series of unintended consequences from the enactment of these laws. There will likely be more with any reforms we make. This is trial and error, but we have to start somewhere. The important thing is that we acknowledge our failures and work to remedy them.

First, and most conservatively, there are fiscal and economic repercussions to these mandatory minimum sentences:

  • Cost – We’re arbitrarily maxing out on the cost of incarceration at the expense of taxpayers. On average, it costs between $35,000-50,000 annually to house an inmate. If someone is sentenced to a mandatory 10 years, the state is on the hook for a minimum of $350,000 in direct economic costs. If the crime lacked severity, costs could top out at a mere $70,000-$100,000, but that type of cost-savings analysis relative to the crime committed is not permitted.
  • It’s forcing overcrowding – The Federal Justice Judicial Center reported that 70% of the prison growth related to sentencing since 1985 is attributed to increases in drug sentence length.
  • Job availability – Would you be more willing to hire someone who has served 15 years or less than five years in prison? The longer someone is incarcerated, the less likely it is they will attain a sustainable long-term job that will keep them a member of the workforce. The cyclical nature of this is social program dependency, another thing conservatives are against.
  • We aren’t actually fixing anything – Mandatory minimums don’t reduce crime. There are various studies out there that show the correlation between the length of time in prison and recidivism rates. They’re rather high. Why? Because we aren’t rehabilitating, we aren’t correcting behavior…Recidivism will cost us. The conservative argument is to transition these folks into a role of productivity in society,

Despite knowing these economic impacts, our state legislatures are still proposing legislation that would impose mandatory minimum sentences on various crimes – new and old. Since 1991, crimes punishable by MMS’s have doubled.

Another issue of concern: This sentencing structure completely eliminates judicial discretion. If you truly think about it, judicial power has actually been usurped by the legislature and portions of the judicial branch are operating under the direction of the legislature. It also places the power in the hands of the prosecutors because they are the ones filing charges. Remember, prosecutors keep statistics on how many people they lock up each year. This isn’t just wrong for our judicial system. It’s wrong for a Republican form of government. Judges should have the ability to weigh the facts and circumstances of every case individually because no case is the same. The justice system was never intended to operate in the one-size-fits-all mentality. Sentencing power needs to be restored to our judges from the legislative branch.

Georgia’s made minuscule progress. Aside from various rankings giving us a D- (or worse) in civil forfeiture practices and the highest number of citizens on probation, Georgia finally removed the convicted felon box on in-state job applications, made the parole process a smidgen more transparent, and slowly informing elected officials who don’t even know what civil asset forfeiture is.

The conservative stance on justice reform is not helping us economically and it isn’t helping us win elections, It’s time to reevaluate. Everyone has a story. It’s time conservatives allow those stories to be heard in inside the courtroom and on the road to rehabilitation. Georgia, are you listening? It’s time to repeal mandatory minimum sentences.


This blog is part of a series following the FreedomWorks Justice Reform Briefing organized by Jason Pye in Washington, D.C. in May 2015. FreedomWorks partnered with the Center for American Progress to bring together bloggers and activists from all corners of the political spectrum to address reforms needed for the justice system, including mandatory minimum sentencing, the death penalty, and civil forfeiture.

To read Part 1 – An Introduction, click here.

 

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Are We Going Colorblind?

I tell people all the time that when I got into politics, I was your typical cookie cutter Republican. I opposed the things the Democrats were for, I wouldn’t listen to their talking heads, and I was rather closed-minded. But one day I started listening and I realized that they’re not always wrong. This was happening not because I’m not a good Republican, but because we all make mistakes and no party is perfect. And also because every party gets a little overzealous while in power but we tend to forget that or turn a blind eye when they’re doing it.

Another thing everyone used to tell me is that the only thing Republicans and Democrats could agreejustice reform on is agriculture. But now, times are different. In an era where our nation seems largely divided by partisan politics,some issues are breaking down partisan walls. More recently we’ve seen this with the NSA privacy and data collection debate and now, reform of the justice system seems to be maneuvering itself through the political web to find the common ground of both sides.

I had the opportunity earlier this week to attend a FreedomWorksCenter for American Progress joint briefing as part of the Coalition for Public Safety on Justice Reform. The Coalition partners some unusual suspects like Americans for Tax Reform, the ACLU, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Right On Crime and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, in addition to the two who hosted the summit.

The briefing largely focused on the need for ultimate elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, specifically for non-violent crimes, and the pressing issue of the unconstitutional process of civil asset forfeiture in almost every state and on the federal level.

These issues are on the front line on the federal level, where the Smarter Sentencing Act is held up in the Senate Judiciary committee, the CORRECTIONS Act is still lingering in the background, and across the nation at the state level we’re seeing initiatives. New Mexico and Montana both just completely overhauled their civil forfeiture laws laying the groundwork with a template for other states to follow suit. They’re gaining momentum because they span far and wide across race, economic class, gender, and partisanship.

This isn’t just about poor, black Americans anymore and it no longer affects just those drug dealers many conservatives love to hate. Republicans need to take note of what is crashing down around us: our legal system.

Our criminal justice system is broken. Mandatory minimums and civil asset forfeiture are ruining the lives of people all around us. The Clyde’s Armory (a gun store) case in North Georgia. The seizure of every penny Joseph River’s had to his name as he traveled by train to start a new career out west. The case of a small Mississippi town of 7,000 using over $4 million in seized assets to build a new police station. A rural white businessman who had everything -over $100,000- usurped from his bank account without charge. Meanwhile, mandatory minimum sentences completely eliminate judicial discretion in punishment, while disallowing judges to use the facts and circumstances of each individual case – something we as conservatives should love and adore. It impacts all of us as our prisons are overcrowded and underfunded.

As former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said, “It’s not that you shouldn’t trust the system. But you cannot be unwilling to question the process and the players.”  We’ve acknowledged that there are issues Republicans and Democrats can come together on, and this is one of those issues.

Over the next few weeks, I will be doing a series of articles to raise awareness about the various aspects of our criminal justice system that need reform both in Georgia and in DC. I’ll examine the the initiatives above as well as the cost and economic impact of all of this.  I hope you’ll join me in educating those around you and encouraging our elected officials, Republican, Democrat and Independent, that the time for change is now. But we face an uphill battle in messaging this to our Republican fellows.