“There is no compassion in allowing drug dealers, gang members, and felons to prey on innocent people.” ~President Donald J. Trump, August 16, 2016
On the same day the Trump administration unilaterally and retroactively banned gun accessories for law-abiding gun owners, in violation of the Second Amendment and the Takings Clause, his jailbreak bill, which releases scores of gun felons, passed the Senate overwhelmingly. On the very same day Trump caved on his final budget fight over the border, he helped pass a bill that will release thousands of criminal alien drug traffickers (who enter through the border) from federal prison to home confinement, where they will disappear. In the very same era when everyone is claiming to get tough on sexual crimes, most Republicans joined every single Democrat in supporting a bill that offers early release for 1,466 child molesters.
These are the times we live in.
The swampiest parts of the Swamp are all celebrating the first “reform” of criminal justice in decades. In reality, they did nothing for victims, public safety, or law enforcement. Not a single thing.
In addition, there is nothing in this bill that is even libertarian. It doesn’t eliminate a single statute or devolve issues to the states. It doesn’t address any of the overcriminalization of nebulous regulatory crimes that, as conservatives and libertarians, we all want to see reformed. It doesn’t contain mens rea reform. The impetus for criminal justice reform, as laid out by people like Ed Meese in his 2011 testimony before the House, was all about cleaning up the duplicative provisions in the federal code and promoting more uniformity.
As Meese explained in 2015 while opposing just the sentencing portion of this bill (before it even had early release attached), he never signed on to letting out drug traffickers, much less armed robbers and child molesters. “This bill would also give repeat drug conspirators – who arguably poison thousands of people a year with their illegal products – far less severe sentence,” lamented Meese at a time when the drug crisis wasn’t nearly as bad as it is today. He wanted to promote uniformity in the federal code, and this bill actually will make sentencing more random than ever, with defense attorneys now pleading down to the random crimes that were given early release over the others that weren’t, for no rhyme or reason but political optics.
Nothing was done in this bill or broader agenda to better pursue justice for the 6,013 murder cases, 79,310 rape cases, 206,091 robbery cases, and 349,190 aggravated assault cases that were uncleared in 2017 and pretty much every single year. Nothing was done to stop the liberal judges from increasingly releasing burglars and sex offenders from prison and from deportation (in the case of criminal aliens), thanks to the court’s assault on the crime of violence statute. And nothing was done to go after those responsible for the death of 60,000-70,000 Americans a year thanks to those who traffic the deadliest substances for the most evil drug cartels.
Well, actually, I take that back. A lot was done for those people. Just not the victims. You see, Trump promised in New Hampshire just a few months ago to fulfill a campaign promise “to get tough on those people [drug traffickers]” who “will kill thousands of people during their lifetime — thousands of people — and destroy many more lives than that.” He bemoaned the existing light sentences and promised life in prison or the death penalty when appropriate because “if you kill one person, you get the death penalty or you go to jail for life.”
Trump was the last man standing between our safety and the bipartisan elitist leniency movement. Yet, last night, thanks to his support, the Senate overwhelmingly voted for a bill that will allow reduced sentencing and multiple avenues for early release for most of the worst repeat offender cartel and gang members on the most common drug and gun charges prosecutors are typically able to convict them for after pleading down.
As Ed Meese warned on the original bill, “No one should be fooled into believing that at the federal level, prosecutors have charged and judges have sentenced thousands of defendants to years in prison for committing ‘minor’ drug offenses.” Again, that is truer than ever three years later, with the drug crisis deadlier than ever and driven by transnational cartels more than ever.
This is the big lie about low-level, first-time, nonviolent offenders. This bill, by definition, is not dealing with those people because it allows roughly 78 percent of the entire federal prison population to get early release, together with sentencing reductions.
Who is in federal prison and why do federal prosecutors use certain common federal statutes to pursue them?
Those remaining in federal prison today are the ones that even Obama declined to release. And most certainly, the new ones entering the system serving long sentences are among the worst gang members, very often working with transnational gangs and drug cartels based in Mexico killing tens of thousands with the deadliest drugs as well as fueling street violence in cities like Chicago.
The fact that they are in the federal system demonstrates they have significant criminal records in the state system and most often plead down from the original charges. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 72.8 percent of those convicted in the federal system in 2016 had prior convictions; 39.5 percent had violent ones, with the average number of convictions being 6.1 for those with prior convictions. Those are not arrests or charges, but convictions. Most of them have even longer rap sheets with a history of plea deals. Yet these are the people who will benefit from the leniencies.
But this takes too many brain cells for our political class to understand. Instead, Sen. Tom Cotton made it very simple for them. Even though most federal drug traffickers and gun felons are inherently violent and usually committed other violent crimes and were often convicted of those crimes in the state system, his amendment would not have touched the early release for those people. He explicitly targeted only those convicted of sex crimes and violent crimes for the current federal sentence they are serving; 62 percent of the federal prison population would still have been eligible for early release. Yet 14 Republicans joined with every Democrat (except Gary Peters) to defeat the amendment. They also voted down a provision to simply notify victims when their assailants are released and establish a quarterly report detailing the recidivism of anyone released, which was supposedly the entire point of the bill.
But here’s the kicker: Once the amendments were defeated, that means that the final bill unambiguously released violent felons, even according to their convoluted definition. Yet only 12 Senate Republicans were willing to oppose the bill. Meaning, 24 Republicans who voted for the Cotton amendment are now on record as having no problem voting for a bill that lets out the worst sex offenders and violent career criminals graduating to the federal system.
There was no transparency in the process, and they didn’t want any way for the public or for victims to find out who is released, because they know they will commit terrible crimes upon release. They begged for a random debate over crime for the first time in decades in middle of a border and budget crisis, but then only spent 24 hours. The House will probably pass it without debate. If they know that every single Democrat supports this, why won’t they wait until after Christmas and debate this like human beings and from all angles – Left, Right, and nonpartisan changes to the system? Why the rush? Why, as the final act of the GOP Congress, did leadership pick the one thing that Democrats gladly support anyway? Are they trying to save the Democrats’ time for impeachment? Because they sure don’t want transparency and a protracted debate.
For those who feel dejected by the political elites, take heart in the fact that even with unanimity of opinion among the bipartisan political Swamp, it took them four years to pass this. They spent millions to promote it and have thousands of staffers doing work on this issue, while victims’ rights groups, prosecutors, and law enforcement didn’t spend a penny on PAC ads. Proponents only succeeded by taking a major issue and slamming it on the floor with less than 24 hours of debate right before Christmas in middle of a budget fight. Speed and stealth were the two most important ingredients.
Yet thanks to Sen. Cotton and a handful of people, proponents only got a fraction of what they originally intended to pass, and even what they succeeded in passing, they could only pass by lying to the public that this is for nonviolent offenses.
Fortunately, Cotton has now exposed their true intentions for the future – they indeed want to abolish incarceration for everyone, including violent felons. 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 the Cotton amendment. 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.”
For a decade, they have built a movement to the left of McGovern and Dukakis while the public was sleeping. To the extent that the public heard about this agenda, they figured it was for low-level offenders and some overcriminalized white-collar offense. Now it is clear that the faux conservative groups are all about dismantling the already weak system to deter the worst violent criminals, including the “animals” for whom Trump wanted the death penalty. This is the number-one agenda item of Soros, and its end game is to abolish prisons.
They had one shot to fire before waking up the public, and they missed most of their target. Now, it’s time to have a true comprehensive debate and discussion on all aspects of criminal justice while everyone is watching. This is a discussion I embrace and will rigorously pursue in the coming year.
As Ed Meese said, “Congress needs to worry less about producing a compromise, politically expedient criminal justice reform bill. … Only through substantive hearings with experts, particularly those from law enforcement … might our lawmakers and the public understand how this bill will impact both convicted felons and an apprehensive citizenry.”
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.