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September 18, 2023

Wouldn't a GOP Prez candidate debate focused just on crime and criminal justice issues be worthwhile?

Though we are still more than a week away from the next scheduled Republican primary debate, this new DC Journal piece by Jason Pye got me thinking about the question in the title of this post.  Pye's commentary piece is headlined "GOP Candidates Mum on Criminal Justice Reform," and here are some excerpts:

Americans deserve a presidential race based on substantive ideas.  The United States faces real challenges, and they’re often not the ones on which the conservative base of the Republican Party is focused.  Unfortunately, most Republican presidential candidates are resorting to reactionary rhetoric rather than offering viable solutions to complex policy issues.  One of those issues is criminal justice reform.

Only Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina has emphasized his bipartisan work on criminal justice reform and defended the First Step Act on the campaign trail.  Chris Christie also has an excellent record on the issue, going back to his time as New Jersey governor.

Other Republicans in the field, though, leave a lot to be desired.  Some are entirely missing in action on the subject. Others are employing “tough on crime” rhetoric that comes with a hefty price tag and does little to reduce recidivism.  Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida voted for the FSA when it came through the House in May 2018 and signed the Florida First Step Act into state law, but he’s now in a race to the bottom on criminal justice.  Taxpayers deserve better, especially when large budget deficits are a concern in Congress....

The early results of the FSA show the law is accomplishing its goal of lower recidivism rates....  Communities and taxpayers benefit when lawmakers adopt laws that reduce recidivism but demand accountability.  Presidential hopefuls must expand the FSA and move it into new policy areas.  Some bills have already been introduced that each presidential candidate could say they would support.

The EQUAL Act would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine.  It’s supported by the National District Attorneys Association and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.  The Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act would allow for the expungement of simple drug possession offenses.  That’s supported by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National District Attorneys Association, and the Fraternal Order of Police.  These are only a couple of examples.  Other bills, like the Clean Slate Act and the Fresh Start Act, are worthy of support.

Notably, the next GOP debate is scheduled to take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute.  Prez Reagan was the responsible for signing the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 into law, though in 2005 the mandatory sentencing guideline system of the SRA became advisory via the SCOTUS ruling in Booker.  Coincidentally, The next presidential inauguration will take place just days after the advisory-guidelines Booker ruling marks a full 20 years in operation! If we had a GOP Prez candidate debate focused just on crime and criminal justice, perhaps we could probe if any of the candidates would favor statutory reforms that would make the federal sentencing guidelines mandatory again (which would, along the way, eliminate any acquitted conduct guideline enhancement).

Sadly, I do not expect to see a GOP Prez candidate debate focused just on crime and criminal justice issues anytime soon.  But I still can hope and dream for at least one pointed question on this topic, such as this one I set out before the last debate:

President Donald Trump helped push the sweeping federal criminal justice reform, the First Step Act, through a GOP-controlled Congress in 2018.  In part because of that legislation (as well as pandemic developments that led to Trump's Justice Department placing thousand more defendants on home confinement), the federal prison population decreased almost 20%, dropping from about 190,000 total federal inmates in January 2017 to just over 150,000 in January 2021.  With the benefit of hindsight, do you view these laws and related developments to be a part of President Trump's record that he should be especially proud of, or do you view this part of his record as one you would be eager to reverse?

Some prior related posts:

September 18, 2023 at 01:47 PM | Permalink


Only a fool would think that of the two major parties, the Republicans are the ones who need a serious debate about CJS issues.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 18, 2023 6:56:24 PM

Unlikely that either party would do an "official" debate based on one topic, and both parties are moving to discouraging candidates from participating in debate-like events not sponsored by the party.

I also think that what passes for debates in politics are, by definition, not serious events. Candidates are limited to very brief answers that encourage "sound bites" rather than thoughtful discussion of issues. And, in the primary phase, where there are multiple candidates competing for attention, the candidates who take the most extreme stand of pandering to their party's base (and their respective bogeymen) tend to get the most attention.

Additionally, as the leading contender for the Republican nomination is not going to participate in any debates -- either for the primary or the general election -- the current set of debates really tell us nothing about the policy stands of the Republican Party in the 2024 election.

Posted by: tmm | Sep 19, 2023 11:54:43 AM

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