The bipartisan political elites have a great idea. With federal judges becoming more and more extreme by the day why not abolish the mandatory minimum sentences that so successfully alleviated the crime bubble in the ‘90s and go back to allowing liberal judges to let people out of jail at a whim?
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a jailbreak bill in a vote of 16-5 with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill, S. 1917, not only reduces mandatory minimum laws, such as “three strikes and you’re out,” it offers existing violent and hardened federal prisoners multiple opportunities for early release. It further loosens laws for juveniles serving time in federal prison for the worst crimes (most often MS-13 members) and allows judges to seal and expunge criminal records for many juveniles. This is the sort of social experiment taking place in the most liberal states and it has created a known problem with juvenile violence in places like my hometown of Baltimore. My analysis of a similar bill introduced in 2015 can be viewed here.
Sections 104 and 105 of this bill would reduce the mandatory minimums for those charged with firearms violations during the course of drug offenses or other violent crimes. Crimes involving firearms were the third most common offense in the federal system in recent years.
Ironically, many of those behind jailbreak for convicted gun felons are the same people who are now pushing broad gun control measures on innocent law-abiding citizens. Even former Attorney General Holder agreed that retroactivity should not be applied to those who received a mandatory minimum sentence for a firearms offense pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) or an enhancement for possession of a dangerous weapon under the sentencing guidelines.
Amazingly, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a lead sponsor of the jailbreak bill for convicted gun felons, is now exploring politicizing the Parkland shooting and passing new gun control measures. Some of the most passionate supporters of gun control in the Democrat Party, such as Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and Kamala Harris, voted to release gun felons.
The centerpiece of the lie behind the jailbreak movement, otherwise known as “criminal justice reform,” is that there are too many people in prison, particularly, non-violent offenders. I posted a full fact sheet in 2015 debunking each one of their talking points. It’s important to remember that we are talking about federal legislation dealing with federal convictions and the federal prison population. The federal prison population is just 10 percent of the total incarcerated universe in this country and the population has dramatically shrunk. The U.S. Sentencing Commission has released from prison tens of thousands of criminals handpicked by President Obama, including those who were convicted on firearms charges.
And yet it’s not enough for the pro-jailbreak crowd. The reality is that there are only 183,000 inmates in federal prisons, including private facilities and halfway houses, and 32 percent of them are non-citizens. A whopping 44.2 percent of all federal convictions in the federal system from 2001 to 2016 were non-citizens. Thus, immigration continues to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to the federal system. To start with, we should be deporting all criminal aliens and implementing the promised security measures so we don’t have this problem. Deal with the immigration issue first and then come back and see if we have a problem with the clogged federal system.
Yet, almost all of those who support jailbreak policies are for the very open borders agenda that have congested the federal criminal justice system with criminals from other countries. And there is nothing in this bill that would ensure that all of the criminal aliens released would be deported. An MS-13 member who was convicted of murder when he was a 17-year-old and has served 20 years in federal prison could be let out on the streets at the stroke of a pen from a liberal judge.
Of those who remain in federal prison who are U.S. citizens, by definition, they are not “nonviolent.” They are bad characters. Nobody is sitting in a federal prison because they were arrested for simple possession of drugs unless they have an immigration charge.
Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, challenged the committee on their assertion that this is all for nonviolent offenders by proposing an amendment that would bar violent felons from receiving any leniency. It was voted down 16-5. Cruz was joined by Sens. Kennedy, R-La., Hatch, R-Utah, Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sasse, R-Neb. The same group of five opposed the final bill while everyone else supported it.
President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have consistently opposed reducing sentences and have accused the broader agenda of being responsible for the rise in crime after two decades of a consistent decline. Sessions sent a letter to the committee yesterday categorically rejecting the premise of this bill. Sessions noted that we are in the midst of the worst drug crisis in history and crime rates and drug deaths have been rising commensurate with the same period that sentencing has already been diminished on a federal and state level.
There has already been a decade of leniencies in the federal system without jailbreak and judicial jailbreak. In FY 2015, 62.4% of all drug traffickers sentenced received a sentence below that which is recommended in the sentencing guidelines. In FY 2016, only 44.5% of all drug offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty altogether, the lowest proportion since 1993.
As is self-evident from the past few decades, most of those convicted of drug trafficking on a federal level are involved in other violent crimes but are often convicted just on drug charges because it is easiest to nail down a conviction based on bank records.
I’m told from White House and Justice Department officials that Jared Kushner is the driving force behind the jailbreak agenda and that it does not have the support of President Trump.
It’s fitting in a perverse way for the Senate to vote for jailbreak at the same time they are voting for amnesty for illegals. Both issues have aggressive bipartisan support among the elites but both issues are detested by most average Americans, particularly in the suburbs. I can say that the majority of those in my neighborhood outside of Baltimore, not a red bastion, think there are too few people in prison and that the criminal justice system is too lenient. Very few people outside of the D.C. policy circles believe in this nonsense. In fact, Chuck Grassley himself admitted that they didn’t vote on this bill outside of committee in 2015 because 5-6 members would have been at risk losing their seats for Willie Horton-style legislation.
As late as March 10, 2015, Grassley delivered a floor speech agreeing with Jeff Sessions every premise of the bill’s flaws. He even identified the toxic source of jailbreak – “the leniency industrial complex” – in his own words. Then six months later he flipped and is now incensed that Sessions is opposing the bill. Maybe someone should ask the good senator why he is so scared of the voters and why he is suddenly owned by the leniency-industrial complex.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.