It’s exactly why proponents of the bipartisan leniency for violent drug traffickers and gang members didn’t want a transparent debate in Congress over the bill. It’s why they stifled all dissent and rammed the biggest change to federal prison sentencing in three decades through the House on a “suspension vote” with no debate or hearings during the last moments in session last year, when all eyes were focused on the pending government shutdown. They didn’t want you to know they’d be releasing people like Joel Francisco of Providence, Rhode Island.
In order to perpetuate the lie that we are somehow unjustly incarcerating too many people for too long and that there is a general over-incarceration problem, particularly in federal prison, phony conservatives joined liberals in selling the First Step Act as nothing more than “prison reform,” never telling the fact that it dramatically cut sentencing for thousands of hardened criminals. They told us it would only affect first time, low-level, non-violent offenders. In reality, federal prosecutors only pursue the worst criminals in a given area, who are often gang leaders fueling widespread violence, and convict them on drug charges. That is why CR is the only legislation scorecard that had the fortitude to score against this travesty of a bill.
In February, when the first wave of prisoners were released, Joel Francisco was among them. Who is Joel Francisco? According to Cmdr. Thomas Verdi, deputy chief of the Providence Police Department, quoted in the Providence Journal, he is a “cold, evil, violent person.”
“Some criminals deserve to spend their lives incarcerated,” Verdi said. “Joel is one.”
Yet like most people in federal prison for drug charges, he was officially “only” convicted as a crack dealer. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2005 because it was his third conviction. That sounds harsh, but he was hit with the maximum sentence because he was a Latin Kings gang leader who was believed to be responsible for a lot of violence in the city. The incarceration of people like him is the single most important factor in driving down the murder rate since the 1990s.
In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which raised the quantity of crack cocaine needed to trigger the sentencing guidelines to be more on par with the levels of powder cocaine. Among the many retroactive jailbreak provisions of the First Step Act of 2018 was section 404, which applied the leniencies of the 2010 act to crack dealers already convicted prior to enactment. Francisco was one who was released under the retroactive reduction of sentencing for repeat crack dealers. 2,600 federal inmates are potentially eligible for retroactive reductions under this provision, according to the Marshall Project.
During the debate over the bill, Senator Mike Lee claimed that “nothing” in the bill gives inmates “early release.” Sen. Tom Cotton replied by specifically warning about the crack cocaine provision. As of July, 1,691 inmates were released early just under section 404.
According to the Providence Journal, Francisco was accused of attempting to break into an ex-girlfriend’s home in July, and a knife was found on the scene, but he was not reincarcerated. Now there is an arrest warrant out on him for the stabbing of Troy Pine, 46, who was found dead last Wednesday night in a local bar. Francisco was scheduled to be arraigned for the attempted domestic violence and break-in charges on October 15, but he is now a fugitive.
The sad thing is that none of the foolish pro-criminal politicians in the White House or Congress from either party will be made to answer for Francisco and God knows how many others like him who have been released. As I’ve chronicled almost daily at CR, there is an epidemic of repeat violent offenders going on to commit heinous murders and rapes, yet the media seldom reports how and why they were let out of jail. The same way the “abolish ICE” movement doesn’t want you to know how many heinous crimes are committed by deportable aliens who should have been removed, the “abolish prison” crowd doesn’t want you to know how many murders were committed by repeat drug offenders and other offenders who were released from prison.
If not for the Providence Journal, I would never have known about this case, and undoubtedly, there are countless others who are now back in the criminal underworld, yet their stories will never be told. Sob stories of victims are never told by Kim Kardashian and Ivanka Trump, but only those of cartel traffickers.
During the very short debate over the First Step Act in the Senate, Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and John Kennedy, R-La., proposed a simple amendment that would have required Congress to publish a quarterly report on how many prisoners were released, a history of their rap sheets, and any updates on those who are rearrested for crimes. Real simple, right? After all, if the entire point of the bill, according to “conservative” proponents, was to place convicts in special “anti-recidivism” programs to magically rehabilitate them before being released, don’t they want to see the results and gauge the progress?
In reality, they wanted zero accountability. 17 Republicans and every Democrat joined together to defeat this amendment. The ignorance and groupthink surrounding this cult was so contagious that it passed the Senate 87-12 and the House of Representatives 358-36. Many members I spoke to at the time really thought the bill was about prison reform, aka the quality of the food or the beds in prison, not an early release bill.
But we all knew the truth that, given that the prison population is composed of mainly violent criminals, it was inevitable that a movement dedicated to lowering prison numbers rather than to public safety would lead to the release of people like Francisco. Even as they were promoting the “nonviolent, low-level, first-time offender” lie to the public, a group of phony “conservative” groups sent a letter to senators opposing another amendment from Cotton that would have barred violent offenders from early release. They finally admitted the truth after all these years. They bemoaned the fact that Cotton’s amendment “would make virtually all federal prisoners ineligible for earned time credits, with the exceptions of low-level drug offenders and white-collar criminals.”
It’s nice to know that the president now realizes that he was scammed. Now it’s time for him to demand reforms to the “reforms.” During the campaign against Hillary Clinton in August 2016, Trump warned, “There is no compassion in allowing drug dealers, gang members, and felons to prey on innocent people.” Sadly, even though Hillary wasn’t elected, we got that “compassion” anyway. Now it’s time for an agenda of true compassion rooted in public safety.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.