« "The New Normal? Prosecutorial Charging in California after Public Safety Realignment" | Main | LDF releases latest, greatest accounting of death row populations »

March 8, 2014

Notable talk of sentencing reform at CPAC conference

LogoAs highlighted in this Washinton Post article, headlined "Conservatives try to make criminal justice reform a signature issue," this year's Conservative Political Action Conference included a notable panel on criminal justice reform.  Here are excerpts:

[Rick] Perry appeared alongside several other conservatives, including Grover Norquist, on a panel about criminal justice reform and how those reforms are being pushed by several Republican states.

While it was sandwiched between better-attended sessions, the discussion of Republican progress on reforming the criminal justice system was one of the few CPAC sessions that laid out a true pathway forward for a party that desperately wants to expand demographically....

[O]n issues of sentencing reform and prison recidivism, Republicans — especially several governors in Southern states — have been the leaders, earning praise from prison reform groups on both sides of the aisle for efforts to save money by implementing rehabilitation programs and curbing skyrocketing prison costs....

That’s why the criminal justice discussion at CPAC surpasses the practice-run stump speeches of 2016 hopefuls in importance if the GOP’s stated desire to re-brand is for real. “This is our chance to show we can provide solutions to affect significant problems,” said Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

The renewed focus on cost-s­aving reforms marks a dramatic, decade-long shift by Republican governors, many of whom previously won election by stumping on tough-on-crime platforms. But, as many of those governors have noted, one way to cut state costs is to decrease the number of people being locked up for nonviolent offenses and rid the law books of mandatory minimum sentences for such offenses.

In addition to Perry, prominent Republicans who once trumpeted tough-on-crime ­stances and now call for sentencing changes and rehabilitation programs for drug and other nonviolent offenders include former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a tea party hero, has made reform of mandatory minimum sentences a major focus in recent months. “We’re not a soft-on-crime state, you know what I’m saying? . . . We’re tough on crime,” Perry said. “But I hope we are also seen as a smart-on-crime state.”

While the room emptied out a little right before the panel — which followed a speech by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee — many CPAC attendees did stick around, which should be encouraging for center-right Republicans who have called for a more solutions-oriented message from the party. On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared that “our ideas are better than their ideas.”

This article from The Nation provides some additional information about the CPAC discussion of criminal justice reform, and it starts this way:

Pat Nolan strode to the podium and rattled off the facts: more than 2 million Americans are in prison, meaning one in every hundred adults is incarcerated. Fewer than half of those in prison are there for violent crimes; most are drug offenders; and state budgets are badly strained by maintaining this system. Then he read a quote: “Only a nation that’s rich and stupid would continue to pour billions into a system that leaves prisoners unreformed, victims ignored and communities still living in fear of crime.”

This wasn’t an ACLU convention nor an academic confab, however — it was the Conservative Political Action Conference, the infamous annual showcase of the far-right boundaries of the Republican Party. Just before this panel on criminal justice reform began, former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was onstage accusing President Obama of lying about Benghazi and pronouncing that “the IRS is a criminal enterprise.”

But the panel was far more substantive. Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke at length about unnecessarily punitive mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, as well as the wisdom of drug courts that divert addicts out of the penal system and into treatment. During his time as governor, Perry has become one of the more aggressive prison reformers in the country. In 2011, the state actually closed a prison because it couldn’t be filled thanks in large part to the declining incarceration rate. (Before Perry, George W. Bush oversaw the construction of thirty-eight new prisons.) “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money,” Perry said. “Stop the recidivism rates—lower them. That’s what can happen with these drug courts.”

Then there was former New York City Police Chief Bernie Kerik, who no doubt has a unique view on the criminal justice system: aside from being police chief and running Rikers Island, he also was incarcerated for three years on conspiracy and tax fraud charges. Kerik spoke passionately about the number of people he met in federal prison who who were there for nonviolent drug offenses—people who got ten years for drugs “the weight of a nickel.”

Some older and recent posts on the "new politics" of sentencing reform:

March 8, 2014 at 11:27 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e201a73d872182970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Notable talk of sentencing reform at CPAC conference:

Comments

Very interesting. Further proof that there is growing consensus on these issues, notwithstanding all of the attempts by Otis, Supremacy Clause, and others to mislead and egg on White under-educated populations to oppose reforms with appeals to racism and resentment. Good to see that some of Otis's and his Federalist-founder wife's fellow travelers on many issues have also had it with the embarrassing level of incarceration in this country and the resulting waste of resources and lives. Otis and is ilk are increasingly isolated, and one can only conclude that they either enjoy the fact that several times as many folks are incarcerated in this country. One question Otis never answers is why he cannot support reforms of the excesses in sentencing, even if he does not agree with complete repeal of mandatory minimums. It is really astonishing that Otis is teaching at Georgetown that are completely inconsistent with Jesuit teachings regarding humanity, compassion, and redemption. There really is no excuse for his cynicism, flip dismissals of anyone wishing to address one of our nations real disgraces, blithe disregard for anyone less fortunate than himself, and easier to "purify" society of those who do not look like him or share his ultra-conservative worldview. People like Otis and his ilk need to be called out at all turns. Really good to see that folks of all ideological stripes are seeing this now.

Posted by: Mark | Mar 9, 2014 10:29:43 AM

Mark, I regret to say that once I see your gratuitous, offensive, and unacceptable ad hominem attacks on Bill Otis and his family, I am completely turned off to your arguments on the merits.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Mar 10, 2014 12:25:19 PM

Michael R. Levine,

Thank you sir.

P.S. I am compelled to admit, however, that my wife married down.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 10, 2014 5:27:28 PM

And to all you death penalty enthusiasts, here's a case that illustrates the weakness of your arguments:

NEW ORLEANS, March 11 (Reuters) - A Louisiana man who has spent nearly three decades on death row was slated to walk free on Tuesday, after prosecutors asked a judge to set aside his first-degree murder conviction and death sentence, citing new evidence in the case that exonerated him.

Glenn Ford, a black man, was convicted by an all-white jury in the 1983 robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman, a 56-year-old Shreveport watchmaker, who was found shot to death behind the counter of his jewelry shop.

Acting on new information that exonerated Ford, a judge in Shreveport ordered him released from Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, where he has been held on death row since March 1985.

"We are very pleased to see Glenn Ford finally exonerated, and we are particularly grateful that the prosecution and the court moved ahead so decisively to set Mr. Ford free," said Gary Clements and Aaron Novod, attorneys for Ford from the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana.

Prison spokeswoman Pam Laborde said shortly before 5 p.m. local time (2200 GMT) that Ford was being processed, but she had not yet received confirmation of his release.

Ford, a California native who did occasional yard work for Rozeman, was found guilty in 1984 and was sentenced to die by electrocution, then the state's method of execution.

For three decades, Ford has maintained his innocence and filed multiple appeals, most of which were denied.

But in 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing on Ford's claim that the prosecution suppressed favorable evidence related to Jake and Henry Robinson, two brothers initially implicated in the crime.

According to the Shreveport Times, court records show that an unidentified informant in 2013 told prosecutors that Jake Robinson admitted to shooting and killing Rozeman.

Last Thursday, prosecutors filed a motion to vacate Ford's conviction and sentence, saying that in late 2013 "credible evidence" came to their attention "supporting a finding that Ford was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman."

If prosecution had been privy to the information initially, the motion said, "Ford might not even have been arrested or indicted for this offense."

Caddo Parish Assistant District Attorney Catherine Estopinal declined on Tuesday to elaborate on what she termed "a recent development" that prompted prosecutors to reverse course.

"I can't go into it," she said. (Editing by Brendan O'Brien, G Crosse and Lisa Shumaker)

Posted by: Dave from texas | Mar 11, 2014 10:54:26 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB