Trump’s often-spoken instincts on punishing drug traffickers were correct. Therefore, he might want to think twice before his son-in-law or Kim Kardashian convince him to stand at a podium with drug traffickers released early from prison like Obama did. Now, one of those who spoke at a jailbreak press conference with him has been rearrested for drug trafficking after obtaining early release under the First Step Act.
On April 1, 2009, Trump held a summit with prisoners released under the First Step Act to celebrate passage of the bill. One of those convicts celebrated at the podium was Troy Powell, whom Trump referred to as a great electrician and even joked about using him one day for work in the White House. He celebrated the fact that Powell was hired by a lumber company in North Carolina.
Trump then brought him to the lectern amid rousing applause from the crowd. Powell thanked all of the jailbreak organizations like Cut 50 that helped get the legislation passed. Choked up with emotion, Powell said that “more needs to be done” and that he left many others behind in prison. “There’s people doing 40, 50 years, for nothin’, I mean absolutely nothing,” lamented Powell. The Republican National Committee even tweeted out the video.
It was one of those heartwarming moments. The tenor of that press conference was all about the injustice to criminals, not victims, as if the federal government just randomly grabbed great people and locked them up forever, and if only we abolished prison, we’d live happily ever after.
Fast-forward roughly a year later, and Powell was arrested in North Carolina with three others and charged with meth trafficking. Thousands of Americans are dying because of people like this. And this can’t be blamed on lack of job opportunities. This is a man who literally has the president’s ear and was given a job, but he was allegedly back to his old ways almost immediately.
The reality is, as Reagan warned, that some people are just irremediably broken and a danger to society. It takes talent to get into state prison these days, much less to graduate to federal prison. While no system is perfect, the fact that someone gets mandatory minimums in federal prison usually means he had multiple opportunities to escape the longer sentencing.
The sad thing is that this happens all the time. I’m told by sources at the DEA who are not authorized to speak to the media that they see many people who have been released in recent years, including under Obama, back to trafficking for the cartels within days of their release. If not for a local North Carolina TV station, we would never have known about this case.
The chickens of the First Step Act came home to roost even more severely in Providence, Rhode Island, last year when Joel Francisco, who was released under the First Step Act, was charged with murder. Francisco was serving life in prison for a third drug trafficking charge in 2005 under the “three strikes and you’re out” law. However, he got such a severe sentence not because of drugs but because he was a known Latin Kings member responsible for a lot of violence in the city, including shooting a man in the back of the head, execution-style, in 1997. He pleaded no contest for that, so at the time, he escaped full justice in the state system. The feds targeted him specifically for this reason, yet the First Step Act released him.
It’s unclear whether the judge in Powell’s case believed he was responsible for crimes more severe than the drug trafficking that landed him in prison for 20 years, but may never know, sense his sentencing report is sealed.
Numerous violent offenders have been released under this bill. We will never know how many reoffend, because 18 Republicans joined every Democrat in defeating an amendment by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., that would have required the Bureau of Prisons to publish the rearrest information of released prisoners.
This is the big lie. Just as with numerous crimes committed by illegal aliens that get reported as “a New York man,” so many crimes committed by those released under these jailbreak programs never get traced back to the political movement that released them.
What is so jarring about the jailbreak of drug traffickers is that it comes amid the worst meth crisis in our nation’s history. Congress passed dozens of bills clamping down on prescriptions and spending billions of dollars for drug treatment. It is preparing more bills this year. Yet, when it comes to the people actually supplying this stuff, lawmakers are treating them like heroes. Which one is it? Is this the worst drug crisis ever, engendering a full-scale response from government, or are we going to celebrate drug traffickers and virtue-signal on how they were wronged?
Most of all, this tragic story demonstrates the fallacy behind one of the major talking points of the pro-criminal movement. Proponents of jailbreak constantly speak of the need for “second chances.” Aside from the fact that, with few exceptions, our system is full of endless chances for the criminal but no second chance for victims, they are missing the most important factor in rehabilitation. Someone who has truly reformed would recognize what he did wrong and commit to rectifying his mistake. Yet these people think they did nothing wrong, as Powell himself said last February. And therein lies the problem.
Alice Johnson has become a celebrity for Republicans and is now a de facto spokeswomen for the Trump administration. She was a top-level cocaine trafficker for the Colombian cartels, and her prosecution was the biggest drug case in Tennessee’s history at the time. To this day, she doesn’t believe she did anything wrong. One would think a reformed person would go around with the DEA and federal prosecutors and warn about the dangers of cocaine trafficking, which is killing thousands of African-Americans. Instead, she is agitating for release of more traffickers.
At some point our government needs to pick a side in this battle. As for President Trump, he must remember that his initial instincts, opposed to “swampthink,” are always correct.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.